Some words we hear in conversation are not used correctly, but we accept them anyway because we don’t know them. And then we use them – incorrectly. It’s like a virus. It spreads from person to person until someone stands up for what’s right. And then you hear, “But everyone says it that way.”
If everyone is doing it, that doesn’t make it right.
Today I’d like to speak my mind about the difference between infer and imply. To infer is to receive information from a message or to guess information from a message. To imply is to put a suggestion into the message or send a suggestion without stating it directly.
The perspective of the two words is different. The person who infers is the listener. The person who implies is the speaker.
We infer, either correctly or incorrectly, a lot during conversations. You can say, “From what you’re saying, I gather you’re not going to the party.” You infer because of an assumption. The inference, based on what was spoken and paired with your prior understanding of the other person’s history, can be responded to by the other person by acknowledging its accuracy or inaccuracy.
We also imply things almost every day. Many times we’ll leave out information we thing the other person will understand if we don’t say it. If you take a test and go to the front of the room to turn it in, but the teacher looks it over, only to say, “You still have another fifteen minutes of class time.” And she hands it back to you. You know that teacher was implying that you’ll want to take another look at your test before turning it in. You can receive her message without her stating it directly. She was implying that she saw a wrong answer and wanted to give you a chance to correct your mistake. Sometimes we try to avoid a direct answer by using language that makes it clear without the possibility of our being quoted as saying it directly.
Both of these words remind us that we make judgments all the time in our conversations. Other people imply information, and we infer information from what they said. We can use each word properly and know that we’re putting effort into communicating well.