Learn the Difference Between
Imply and  Infer

by Tina Blue
March 27, 2001

All this week I have run into the word infer mistakenly used to mean imply.  I'd like to help everyone get those two words straightened out.


The best way to remember the difference between these two words is to think in terms of the model used by communications theorists. Communication consists of a message, a sender, and a receiver. The sender can imply, but the receiver can only infer. The error that usually occurs is that the word infer is mistakenly used for imply.

WRONG:  Are you inferring that I am a fool?
RIGHT:   Are you implying that I am a fool?

If someone gets the idea from your behavior that you are a fool, then he is inferring that you are a fool. But if he is subtly letting you know that he thinks so, then he is implying that you are a fool. You, of course, can infer from his implication that he thinks you are a fool.

IMPLY = to put the suggestion into the message (sender implies)

INFER = to take the suggestion out of the message (receiver infers)

IMPLICATION = what the sender has implied

INFERENCE = what the receiver has inferred
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