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Today is the second post in the series on misused word pairs. These are words which are frequently substituted for each other even though they don’t have the same meaning.
Some years ago—has it really been over thirty?—I wrote a short story parodying the international oil situation and Jimmy Carter’s “excess profits tax.” In that story I used one of today’s words when I should have used the other. You can imagine my embarrassment when a lady I showed it to corrected me.
Today’s terms are imply and infer. They sound sort of like they should be good substitutes for each other, because they both have to do with conveying meaning without actually making a positive statement of that meaning. The difference between the two words has to do with who is doing the conveying.
The speaker or writer implies, or makes implication. Joan implied she had been to the state fair before. Joan said something conveying that impression, although she didn’t actually say so.
The hearer or reader infers, or draws inference. Hal inferred from what Joan said that she’d been to the state fair before. Hal received the impression, although Joan did not actually say so.
We rarely used imply incorrectly. No one says I implied from her conversation . . . But I hear and read a lot of statements such as She inferred that she had been there before.
This is really an easy one. We just need to remember that the person making the statement implies and the person hearing or reading the statement infers. Remember that little rule, and you’ll never confuse these two terms.
Let’s all learn this simple rule of word usage so we can write more intelligent and coherent prose.
What grammatical misuse bothers you? What particular area of grammar would you like help with? I’d love to hear and help.
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