Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Which Came First: The Inference or the Implication?

English Class Pop Quiz: Fill in the blank with a form of the word IMPLY or INFER.
  1. She had not meant for her statement to ______ that he was lying.
  2.  A lot can be ______ from these statistics.
  3.  The high level of radiation in the rocks ______ that they are volcanic in origin.
  4.  From the evidence we can ______ that the victim knew her killer.
Answers at the bottom of the post.



 Okay, this is the part of the post where the Wicked English Teacher usually lambasts you for not having paid attention in school where you should have learned today's lesson. You can relax though because the Wicked English Teacher understands. No one gets the difference between imply and infer. Certainly not those of you who were busy making plans for decorating the windows in the downtown shops for homecoming when you were supposed to be diagramming sentences. Well, one diagram is as good as another, right? WRONG!

I know, I know. The Wicked English Teacher promised to go easy on you this time, so let's just get started. 

The words imply and infer are frequently misused in one another's place. Reasonably intelligent people in all lines of work make the same mistake. I actually had to grit my teeth through last Sunday's sermon because of it. No, Preacher. I'm sorry, but the text does not infer that. The text is not capable of inferring. Nothing you have ever read ever inferred anything at all.

Let's look at the definitions of the two words:


Imply: to suggest that something is true, without saying this directly
Infer: to form an opinion that something is probably true because of information that you have


So  first you have the speaker or writer who makes you think something without coming out and saying it. That person implies something. Then you have the listener or reader who uses the information to figure out what is being hinted at. When you figure out what is being suggested, you infer.

The giver (speaker or writer) implies.
The receiver (listener or reader) infers.

Sometimes, the "giver" is just a set of facts, such as the evidence at a crime scene. The receiver would be whoever observes the facts. Still:

The giver (set of facts) implies.
The receiver (observer) infers.

So let's look at that pop quiz together:

  1. She had not meant for her statement to imply that he was lying.
  2.  A lot can be inferred from these statistics.
  3.  The high level of radiation in the rocks implied that they are volcanic in origin.
  4.  From the evidence we can infer that the victim knew her killer.
 I hope that little lesson helps. Now go forth and sin misuse these words no more!
 

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