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Difference Between Imply and Infer

Imply vs Infer

The basic model of communication theories consist of four components: the speaker, the message, the medium, and the receiver. Conversations and the exchange of ideas involve the transmission of the message from the speaker (source) through a particular medium towards the recipient or the receiver.

While remembering this theory is vital for communication students and professors alike, this model is also where one can draw the differences between “infer” and “imply” – two of the most confusing words in the English language.

True enough, interchanging the usage of these two terms can well be considered a common grammar mishap. This is because the meaning of the words lies with the interpretation of the actors in a communication setting. One statement can be implied by the speaker in which the receiver interprets and draws an inference from.

This being said, it would be easy to have a clear distinction between “imply” and “infer.” To imply means to perform an action or send non-verbal signals to send a message across to someone. “Implications” can be defined as “the unspoken underlying message of something that had been verbally communicated.” For example, when someone says that she just finished drying her hair, she could be implying that she had taken a bath and washed her hair.

When communicating an inference, on the other hand, a person will come up with a conclusion or interpretation based on what had been implied. From the example above, the person the woman is talking to will then infer that she is particular about hygiene or hair care. Making an inference may be for the purpose of formulating conclusions from evidence or premises set by the source of the message. Receivers also infer to provide a reason or to surmise for any given circumstance.

Most dictionaries suggest that these two words can be utilized in a sentence construction interchangeably, but most purists disagree. Then again, because the differences are really subtle, most people are still confused on the proper usage of the two terms.

In such cases, looking into the basic communication model may be useful. Remember that only the sender can imply, and only the receiver can infer. In a conversation about laziness in the office, for example, the boss can imply that the productivity of the employees’ output is slowly diminishing. After this, the employees will then infer that there is a need for them to be more active in the workplace.

Thus, asking the speaker about his inference would be wrong. Instead of asking, “Are you inferring we are lazy?” The employees should formulate the question this way: “Are you implying that we are lazy?” since they are referring to what the speaker said.

Simply put, to imply is to put or embed suggestions and underlying connotations into the messages sent from the source towards the recipient. The implication is done only by the speaker. On the other hand, to infer is to extract the embedded suggestions out of the messages. The inference, therefore, should only be done by the receiver.

To imply is to give a hint. To infer is to interpret. The speaker is dominant when making an implication while the receiver has the control over the inference of guesses formulated based on the provided facts and suggestions.


1.“Imply” and “infer” both refer to underlying suggestions embedded in exchanged messages during a conversation.
2.To imply is to give a hint; to infer is to interpret.
3.Only the speaker can imply; only the receiver can infer.
4.An implication is done when the speaker or source sends the message. An inference is performed as the receiver accepts the message.

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1 Comment

  1. So, when you say ‘are you implying…’ to someone, you’ve already inferred a meaning from what they said.

    And when someone says ‘are you inferring…’ to someone, they are trying to clarify a response that seems to be in response to a prior implied meaning.

    Misunderstandings are unfortunately very common in life. Thus, this is really helpful. Thank you.

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