Monday, March 25, 2013

Writing Tip of the Week: Imply and Infer

Writers sometimes mistakenly use the word “infer” when they really mean “imply.” Although the two words are related, they are used differently. To imply means to suggest or express indirectly.  To infer means to deduce, conclude, or assume.  

Thus, use imply when the actor is sending an indirect message; use infer when the actor is receiving, or drawing inferences from, someone else’s  message.  The person who implies something is the sender of the message, whereas the person who infers something is the recipient of the message. 

·    The detective implied (suggested) that the defendant was guilty by testifying, “He ran when he saw me, didn’t he?”   

·    The detective inferred (deduced or concluded) from the defendant’s demeanor that he was hiding something. 

·    During the settlement negotiations, the plaintiff’s lawyer implied (suggested) that his client would consider a lesser settlement if the defendant publicly apologized.  

·    When the victim filed a civil suit, the defendant’s counsel inferred (deduced or concluded) that the victim was no longer committed to pursuing criminal charges.

For further information, see Anne Enquist & Laurel Currie Oates, Just Writing 310 (3d ed. 2009) and Laurel Currie Oates & Anne Enquist, The Legal Writing Handbook 775 (5th ed. 2010).