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Imply/Infer
Think 'M' Before 'N'

By Evan Jenkins

To imply is to suggest, hint, get an idea across — deliberately or by accident — without saying or writing it in so many words. Politician A might not quite say Politician B was a crook, but he certainly might try to make his audience think so.

It would be up to the audience to infer. That means to read or listen to something and deduce, or guess, what is meant. Inferring is a thought process.

The confusion between the words is a lot more common than it should be, and almost always involves “infer”:

• A government official issued an apology for “inferring that a 14-year-old girl might have instigated a sexual relationship with a clergyman.” What he inferred didn’t matter; what he apologized for was putting the thought into words — implying it.

• A writer discoursing on a denizen of the deep — the horseshoe leatherjacket, no less — declared, “As the name infers, this fish has a horseshoe-shaped pattern on the side of its tough thick skin.” A name can’t think, so it can’t infer; it implies.

A stab at mnemonics: Someone iMplies, then someone else iNfers — “m” before “n.” Or, the sPeaker imPlies. Or, the listener or reader INfers, as in INgests, as in takes IN ... or maybe...

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Sept / Oct 08

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