Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 35: Infer — no — Imply

Sometimes a bit of detective work is required in conversation when two people use facial expressions, tones of voice, gestures or other body language to suggest something they're not saying out loud. Two words—imply and infer—are sometimes confused with each other, but they are both ways people exchange information beneath the surface—sometimes accidentally.

Take this scenario of a first date between my friends Josh and Sarah, for instance. Sarah started to tell Josh a story, but right in the middle of it, Josh let out an audible yawn.

In this case, Josh implied that he's bored or tired by yawning. Sarah inferred from his yawning that he's not having a good time on the date.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, imply means to "express indirectly." Infer means to "derive as a conclusion from facts or premises"—in other words, to deduce, conclude or gather. For example:
I didn't mean to imply that I was bored with your conversation.
I had inferred that you were bored when you yawned.
Fortunately for Sarah, Josh wasn't bored at all—just tired from being nervous to go on the date.

Source: Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.

Music from this Episode: "Disco Inferno" by The Trampps; "Black Coffee in Bed" by Squeeze.

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