Imply Or Infer?

‘Imply’ or ‘infer’? Many people confuse these words. They are both verbs that deal with the communication of a message but they have different meanings.

Whether you use ‘imply’ or ‘infer’ also depends on whether you are the sender or the receiver of the message.


‘To imply’ means to suggest something, without saying it directly. It might be accompanied by other evidence (e.g. tone, body language, actions)

The noun form of the word is implication.

‘Implying’ and ‘implications’ primarily involve the sender of a message.


‘To infer’ means to draw a conclusion from what has been implied and from any other available evidence

The noun form is inference.

‘Inferring’ and ‘inferences’ primarily involve’ the receiver of a message.

Imply or infer? When communication is successful

Often, implications and inferences work well together; the speaker (or writer) implies something and the listener (or reader) infers something from it.

For example:

Jo: (pushing away books, closing the laptop and closing the eyes) It’s no use. I’m totally exhausted!

Alex: I take it you’ll have to finish the report tomorrow?

In fiction, implication is a handy way to ‘show, not tell’.

For example:

Verity grabbed her hat and sunnies and dashed towards the door.

‘Don’t forget the sunscreen!’ Mum called after her.

The narrator (the sender of the message) makes the implication is that it’s a hot and sunny day, probably in summer.

Readers (the receivers) would make that inference.

They might also infer that Mum is protective or that Verity is forgetful but they would probably need other examples to support it.

Imply or infer? When communication doesn’t work

Because implications are indirect, there can be misunderstandings and, therefore, inferences might be wrong.

For example:

Sam: I’m going to the recruitment office.

Jamie: Oh, you want a new job

Sam: No, I’m picking up my brother who works there.


  • As a sender, be aware that your implications might lead to inaccurate inferences; sometimes it pays to be more direct.
  • As a receiver, check your inferences before responding or acting; sometimes it’s better to seek clarification.
  • As always, the key purpose of communication is that messages are sent and received as intended.

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