In last week's post I explained the difference between recommend and refer, which people sometimes confuse. This week, I want to discuss imply and infer, which people OFTEN confuse. In fact, I hear these two words used incorrectly at least once a week and sometimes more than that.
Imply means to indicate or suggest. You imply something to someone, and this action constitutes an implication.
Infer means to guess or draw a conclusion. You infer something from someone or something, and this action constitutes an inference.
Note: Some informal schools of thought say that infer can also be used to mean "imply or hint." However, to quote Webster's Dictionary, this usage "is found in print chiefly in letters to the editor and other informal prose, not in serious intellectual writing."
In other words, don't use it that way.
Here's a trick to help you keep the two straight. Imply starts with IM, and infer starts with IN. M comes before N, and something has to be implied before it can be inferred. The implication here is that I believe you're smart enough to get it right. I hope you infer that from this smiley face. :)
Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the romantic comedies Perfect on Paper It's a Waverly Life and Honey on Your Mind. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.
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