infer, imply
1. The only point noted by Fowler (1926) was that the inflected forms of infer are inferred and inferring, and this is thankfully still true (but note inferable or inferrable, with one r or two, and inference with only one r). Fowler made no comment on the meaning of infer, and it was left to Gowers (1965) to add a short note to the effect that ‘the use of infer for imply is sadly common —so common that some dictionaries give imply as one of the definitions of infer without comment’. The Concise Oxford Dictionary (2006) warns against this meaning and distinguishes the primary meanings of the two words: (infer) ‘to deduce or conclude from facts or reasoning’, (imply) ‘to suggest the truth or existence of (something not expressly asserted), to insinuate or hint’. The problem lies in the fact that deduction and suggestion can often be seen as part of the same process. It is nearly always infer that encroaches on imply (but see paragraph 3 below for clarification of ‘nearly’), and the OED puts the issue in its historical context by giving examples dating from the 16c onwards.
2. The following examples show in four groups the correct meanings of both words and then the disputed or unclear usage of infer: (imply correctly used)

• Vast stretches of abandoned concrete underfoot imply that someone once had plans for this land —New Yorker, 1986

• It is a shocking departure from the procedures of good governance apparently designed to skirt Cabinet approval and the oversight that implies —Daily Mail, 2007

• (infer correctly used) One might infer, from Judy's appearance, that her business rather lay with the thorns than the flowers —Dickens, 1853

• You would have been able to infer from the room alone the nature of those who lived in it —D. M. Davin, 1979

• No reference to any living person is intended or should be inferred —Saul Bellow, 1987

• One of the things I inferred from the article was that the author felt that de Beauvoir was somehow living the open relationship because it was what Sartre wanted —weblog, AmE 2005 [OEC]

• (infer used for imply) I can't stand fellas who infer things about good clean-living Australian sheilas —Private Eye, 1970

• These were the ones who had made a slightly sulky entrance (inferring rebellion), and had then proceeded to sit on the floor —M. Bracewell, 1989

• (infer ambiguously used) Many good reasons exist in favor of private executions, without inferring or saying ‘governments are ashamed of the death penalty’ —B. R. Hall, AmE 1846

• She was ‘flabbergasted’ when complaints were made that she had taken financial advantage of him by inferring they had an ‘exclusive relationship’ —Express, 2004.

3. The only domain in which imply is used where infer might be expected is in legal language, in which the inference and the conclusion are regarded as part of the same process, as the following extract shows: When a possessory interest in property is conveyed, a court may imply from the circumstances that the parties also intended to grant or reserve an easement as well despite their failure to say so in the deed. Otherwise, it is infer that has broken the bounds of logic and is on the loose in the arena of idiom.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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(as a consequence), (by implication), , ,

Look at other dictionaries:

  • imply — im·ply /im plī/ vt im·plied, im·ply·ing 1: to recognize as existing by inference or necessary consequence esp. on legal or equitable grounds in ordinary circumstances...the law would imply that it was the duty of the hospital to use due care… …   Law dictionary

  • imply — (v.) late 14c., to enfold, enwrap, entangle (the classical Latin sense), from O.Fr. emplier, from L. implicare involve (see IMPLICATE (Cf. implicate)). Meaning to involve something unstated as a logical consequence first recorded c.1400; that of… …   Etymology dictionary

  • imply — ► VERB (implies, implied) 1) indicate by suggestion rather than explicit reference. 2) (of a fact or occurrence) suggest as a logical consequence. USAGE The words imply and infer do not mean the same thing. Imply is used with a speaker as its… …   English terms dictionary

  • Imply — Im*ply , v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Implied}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Implying}.] [From the same source as employ. See {Employ}, {Ply}, and cf. {Implicate}, {Apply}.] 1. To infold or involve; to wrap up. [Obs.] His head in curls implied. Chapman. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • imply — 1 involve, comprehend, include, embrace, subsume Analogous words: import, *mean, signify, denote: *contain, hold: convey, *carry, bear 2 *suggest, hint, intimate, insinuate Analogous words: connote, *denote: * …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • imply — [v] indicate, mean betoken, connote, denote, designate, entail, evidence, give a hint, hint, import, include, insinuate, intend, intimate, involve, mention, point to, presuppose, refer, signify, suggest; concepts 75,97,682 Ant. define, explicate …   New thesaurus

  • imply — [im plī′] vt. implied, implying [ME implien < OFr emplier < L implicare, to involve, entangle < in , in + plicare, to fold: see PLY1] 1. to have as a necessary part, condition, or effect; contain, include, or involve naturally or… …   English World dictionary

  • imply — verb ADVERB ▪ clearly, heavily, strongly ▪ subtly ▪ He subtly implied that race was an issue in the case. ▪ logically ▪ …   Collocations dictionary

  • imply */*/*/ — UK [ɪmˈplaɪ] / US verb [transitive] Word forms imply : present tense I/you/we/they imply he/she/it implies present participle implying past tense implied past participle implied 1) if one thing implies another thing, the other thing is likely to… …   English dictionary

  • imply — 01. Were you [implying] that I stole some equipment when you mentioned that things always went missing when I was in the office? 02. When you said you didn t believe me, were you [implying] that I was lying? 03. Are you [implying] that I was… …   Grammatical examples in English

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