As an English teacher for the past 18 years, I’m often coaching students to infer hidden meanings from texts we read. In discussions, however, kids will frequently mix up the words “imply” and “infer” as they try to explain what’s happening. Let’s get these two commonly confused words straight once and for all, so we can feel confident using them both!
“To infer” is a verb that means: to put together clues and hints in order to make an educated guess about a hidden truth. Synonyms for “infer” include: deduce, conclude, surmise, gather, figure out, reason, work out, glean, extrapolate, or “read between the lines.” The noun form is “inference.”
Infer in a Sentence
Let’s try using “infer” in a cute example sentence now. Here goes: “I can infer that this bunny would be very soft to hug, because her fur is so fluffy!” This means that I’m putting together clues about the bunny (that its body is round and squishy-looking, and its fur is downy) in order to make an educated guess, and deduce that the rabbit would be a delight to cuddle.
How to Pronounce “Infer”
Notice: visualizing the FUR of the bunny will help your remember the definition and pronunciation of the word “inFER” because the word is pronounced like “in-FUR.” Yay for furry bunnies helping us remember great words!
Now that you understand the definition of “infer,” I can reveal that the word “imply” is basically the other side of all that hinting — it’s about MAKING the clues. “To imply” means to strongly suggest or hint at something, without saying it directly.
Synonymous for “imply” include: insinuate, hint, signal, “talk around,” suggest, or intimate. The key with implying something is that you don’t say it straight out; you’re not being direct or explicit, but rather “talking around something” so that the listener or reader needs to do some work to… INFER the meaning!
Imply in a Sentence
“Those huge dark clouds imply that rain will come soon!” is a simple sentence using “imply,” which means that the clouds are hinting strongly to any viewer that a downpour is imminent. (Note the partial connection with the concept of foreshadowing: hints about the future. All foreshadowing is implying, but not all implying is foreshadowing.)
“Are You Implying That…”
A sentence people often use with “to imply” is to ask, “Are you implying that ___?” This is an attempt to get someone to say straight out something that they’ve just been hinting at or talking around.
For example, if there was a bunny and a funny llama standing together, and all you were talking about was how fluffy and cute the bunny was, someone might ask you, “Are you implying that you’d rather hug that bunny than this llama?” because they are inferring from your focus on the rabbit’s fur that you have a preference for one animal over the other.
Imply vs. Infer in Sum:
I hope you can now see that “imply” and “infer” are basically two sides of the same coin (much like tone vs. mood). They’re similar and related, but are quite different because they function from different DIRECTIONS.
“To imply” means to push hints about a hidden meaning OUTWARD towards the listener or viewer. “To infer” means to gather those hints INWARD, into the brain, in order to piece them together and form an educated guess about the hidden meaning. See how “imply” and “infer” dance together? My hope is that with this lesson, you can now confidently join this dance!
The author and artist, Lillie Marshall, is a National Board Certified Teacher of English and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. All art on this site is original and hand-drawn by Lillie. She launched DrawingsOf.com Educational Cartoons in 2020, building upon the success of her other two sites, AroundTheWorldL.com (established 2009) and TeachingTraveling.com (founded 2010). Subscribe to Lillie’s monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media to stay connected!