Category Archives: Writing

Infer vs imply

The following sentence appeared in a recent NFL.com article.

“Brady’s wife, model Gisele Bündchen, seemed to infer in an Instagram comment that the couple was not supporting Trump.”

A quick glance in a dictionary will reveal that to infer something is to conclude something “from premises or evidence.” For example, one might conclude from a child’s milky mustache and the remains of cereal in his breakfast bowl that he has eaten.

By modern standards, therefore, the above sentence is an atypical use of the word “infer.” Interestingly, the sentence may have been considered less unusual several hundred years ago. According to Dictionary.com, “Infer has been used to mean “to hint or suggest” since the 16th century by speakers and writers of unquestioned ability and eminence.” Indeed, the fourth definition of “infer” from the same dictionary is still listed as “to hint; imply; suggest” and is not labelled as archaic. This fourth definition is a synonym for imply.

In the context of the article, and in the 21st century, however, it would likely be more common to say that Bündchen implied (i.e. suggested) her support for Trump; because she had firsthand knowledge of whether she was supporting Trump, she would not have to make any deductions.

A Distinction Without a Difference

Less than 2 weeks ago, Dr. Adrian Hearn, a specialist in Asia-Pacific studies at the University of Melbourne, spoke regarding whether tensions between the United States and China would result in a military confrontation. Here are the exact words he used:

I would refer to this as a flashpoint more than as an imminent point of ignition.

I must admit to being confused. If a flashpoint isn’t an imminent point of ignition, what exactly is it?