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Vacation Journal, 14 August:
We are being delayed briefly in Hangchow, but we will depart momentarily. Our guide, Wu Liyao, explained that our exploreation will take us slowly through the Yangtze delta to the ocean. She inferred that it would be a long trip. Along the way we will see the levees built 1200 years ago on both sides of the river. Each levee composes two sturdy embankments for a distance of 200 kilometers. There is excitment in our tour group. I am eager to see the ancient walls, but I am anxious about the weather. The previous tour boat had to stop 20 kilometers from the ocean. Bad weather kept them from going further.
- Imply versus Infer -
Many English words have meanings that slowly change with popular usage. For example, some people now insist that infer can be substituted for imply. But other people assert that the traditional distinctions between these words should be retained. We will present the words as if the traditional distinctions are still in force. It is up to you, the reader and writer, to decide how to use these words.
In the opening paragraph, we believe that most readers would deduce that Wu Liyao was hinting at something:
She inferred that it would be a long trip.
Therefore, the better word to use is imply, which means to hint or to suggest without overtly stating:
She implied that it would be a long trip.
The word infer has meant to deduce, or to figure out without being told directly. The distinction between these words is supported by their use in other forms: We draw inferences; we leave implications.
For those who prefer to maintain the distinctions between infer and imply, but who have trouble remembering them, we suggest making up a mnemonic such as:
You may imply a plan, but I infer from facts.