Dogs versus Cats: Imply & Infer

Dog team.jpg

In my last post, I wrote about the verbs to ‘lend’ and to ‘borrow’. These aren’t too hard (yet people still make mistakes with them). But here’s a harder couple of verbs: to ‘imply’ and ‘infer’. As with lend and borrow, these verbs have direction involved in them.

Let’s say that one of the dogs in the above picture is speaking aloud to a crowd of animals, which includes some big cats (e.g. lions). The dog up front says,

‘The average cat works for himself, whereas us dogs fully understand the importance of teamwork.’

One of the big cats in the audience might immediately think, ‘Hey, us lions cooperate when we hunt; we know all about teamwork.’ So,this cat says to this dog up front,

‘Are you implying that I, as a cat, can’t understand teamwork?’

The dog could answer,

‘I wasn’t implying anything. You were simply inferring the wrong message.’

Get it? The speaker implies (that is, suggests something without stating it outright). The listener infers (that is, imagines there is a hint or hidden meaning). As my example shows, it is possible for a listener (or reader) to infer something that was not implied by the speaker (or writer). Also, the noun ‘implication’ is quite common. So, that dog up front might have finished politely by saying,

‘Please don’t infer anything negative about this. There was no implication intended. I am well aware that you, Mr Big Cat, fully understand teamwork.’

Mr Big Cat feels a lot better now, right?