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infer

play
verb in·fer \in-ˈfər\

Simple Definition of infer

  • : to form (an opinion) from evidence : to reach (a conclusion) based on known facts

  • : to hint or suggest (something)

Full Definition of infer

in·ferredin·fer·ring

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 :  to derive as a conclusion from facts or premises <we see smoke and infer fire — L. A. White> — compare imply

  3. 2 :  guess, surmise <your letter … allows me to infer that you are as well as ever — O. W. Holmes †1935>

  4. 3 a :  to involve as a normal outcome of thought b :  to point out :  indicate <this doth infer the zeal I had to see him — Shakespeare> <another survey…infers that two-thirds of all present computer installations are not paying for themselves — H. R. Chellman>

  5. 4 :  suggest, hint <are you inferring I'm incompetent?>

  6. intransitive verb
  7. :  to draw inferences <men … have observed, inferred, and reasoned … to all kinds of results — John Dewey>

in·fer·able also in·fer·ri·ble play \in-ˈfər-ə-bəl\ adjective
in·fer·rer play \-ˈfər-ər\ noun

Usage Discussion of infer

Sir Thomas More is the first writer known to have used both infer and imply in their approved senses (1528). He is also the first to have used infer in a sense close in meaning to imply (1533). Both of these uses of infer coexisted without comment until some time around the end of World War I. Since then, senses 3 and 4 of infer have been frequently condemned as an undesirable blurring of a useful distinction. The actual blurring has been done by the commentators. Sense 3, descended from More's use of 1533, does not occur with a personal subject. When objections arose, they were to a use with a personal subject (now sense 4). Since dictionaries did not recognize this use specifically, the objectors assumed that sense 3 was the one they found illogical, even though it had been in respectable use for four centuries. The actual usage condemned was a spoken one never used in logical discourse. At present sense 4 is found in print chiefly in letters to the editor and other informal prose, not in serious intellectual writing. The controversy over sense 4 has apparently reduced the frequency of use of sense 3.

Examples of infer

  1. May I remark here that although I seem to infer that private communication is an unholy mess of grammatical barbarism, … such is not my intent … —V. Louise Higgins, “Approaching Usage in the Classroom,” English Journal, March 1960

  2. … I infer that Swinburne found an adequate outlet for the creative impulse in his poetry … —T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood, 1920

  3. Lucy … reseated herself with an alacrity and cheerfulness which seemed to infer that she could taste no greater delight … —Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, 1811

  4. It's difficult to infer how these changes will affect ordinary citizens.

  5. Are you inferring that I'm wrong?



Origin of infer

Middle French or Latin; Middle French inferer, from Latin inferre, literally, to carry or bring into, from in- + ferre to carry — more at bear


First Known Use: 1528

Synonym Discussion of infer

infer, deduce, conclude, judge, gather mean to arrive at a mental conclusion. infer implies arriving at a conclusion by reasoning from evidence; if the evidence is slight, the term comes close to surmise <from that remark, I inferred that they knew each other>. deduce often adds to infer the special implication of drawing a particular inference from a generalization <denied we could deduce anything important from human mortality>. conclude implies arriving at a necessary inference at the end of a chain of reasoning <concluded that only the accused could be guilty>. judge stresses a weighing of the evidence on which a conclusion is based <judge people by their actions>. gather suggests an intuitive forming of a conclusion from implications <gathered their desire to be alone without a word>.

Sir Thomas More is the first writer known to have used both infer and imply in their approved senses (1528). He is also the first to have used infer in a sense close in meaning to imply (1533). Both of these uses of infer coexisted without comment until some time around the end of World War I. Since then, senses 3 and 4 of infer have been frequently condemned as an undesirable blurring of a useful distinction. The actual blurring has been done by the commentators. Sense 3, descended from More's use of 1533, does not occur with a personal subject. When objections arose, they were to a use with a personal subject (now sense 4). Since dictionaries did not recognize this use specifically, the objectors assumed that sense 3 was the one they found illogical, even though it had been in respectable use for four centuries. The actual usage condemned was a spoken one never used in logical discourse. At present sense 4 is found in print chiefly in letters to the editor and other informal prose, not in serious intellectual writing. The controversy over sense 4 has apparently reduced the frequency of use of sense 3.


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