im·​ply im-ˈplī How to pronounce imply (audio)
implied; implying

transitive verb

: to express indirectly
Her remarks implied a threat.
The news report seems to imply his death was not an accident.
: to involve or indicate by inference, association, or necessary consequence rather than by direct statement
rights imply obligations
: to contain potentially
obsolete : enfold, entwine
Infer vs. Imply: Usage Guide

Sir Thomas More is the first writer known to have used both infer and imply in their approved senses in 1528 (with infer meaning "to deduce from facts" and imply meaning "to hint at"). 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, the "indicate" and "hint or suggest" meanings of infer have been frequently condemned as an undesirable blurring of a useful distinction. The actual blurring has been done by the commentators. The "indicate" sense of infer, 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 (which is now considered a use of the "suggest, hint" sense of infer). Since dictionaries did not recognize this use specifically, the objectors assumed that the "indicate" sense 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 the condemned "suggest, hint" sense is found in print chiefly in letters to the editor and other informal prose, not in serious intellectual writing. The controversy over the "suggest, hint" sense has apparently reduced the frequency with which the "indicate" sense of infer is used.

Choose the Right Synonym for imply

suggest, imply, hint, intimate, insinuate mean to convey an idea indirectly.

suggest may stress putting into the mind by association of ideas, awakening of a desire, or initiating a train of thought.

a film title that suggests its subject matter

imply is close to suggest but may indicate a more definite or logical relation of the unexpressed idea to the expressed.

measures implying that bankruptcy was imminent

hint implies the use of slight or remote suggestion with a minimum of overt statement.

hinted that she might get the job

intimate stresses delicacy of suggestion without connoting any lack of candor.

intimates that there is more to the situation than meets the eye

insinuate applies to the conveying of a usually unpleasant idea in a sly underhanded manner.

insinuated that there were shady dealings

Example Sentences

Early reports implied that the judge's death was not an accident. His words implied a threat. War implies fighting and death.
Recent Examples on the Web Remember, however, that optimization doesn’t necessarily imply blind efficiency. Lucy Liu, WIRED, 1 Mar. 2023 That doesn't imply that a pause in rate hikes is coming anytime soon. Paul R. La Monica, CNN, 1 Feb. 2023 In a new paper, cognitive scientists and linguists address this dissonance by separating communication via language from the act of thinking: Capacity for one does not imply the other. Matteo Wong, The Atlantic, 31 Jan. 2023 Registration of an investment adviser does not imply any specific level of skill or training and does not constitute an endorsement of the firm by the SEC. Andrew Rosen, Forbes, 26 Jan. 2023 Opening an investigation does not imply that the office has determined that the case has merit, according to a letter sent to Mr. Ostrovsky by the Office for Civil Rights. Vimal Patel, New York Times, 21 Dec. 2022 As the historian Mike Duncan has been detailing in the most recent episodes of his podcast Revolutions, the existence of an oppressive regime doesn’t necessarily imply its overthrow by a righteously aggrieved populace. David Klion, The New Republic, 1 Dec. 2022 The views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not imply endorsement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Intelligence Community, or any other U.S. Government agency. Jonathan Panikoff, Time, 4 Nov. 2022 But don't worry, because this leaner version doesn't imply that your dog will get less nutrition. Amber Smith, Discover Magazine, 23 Oct. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'imply.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English implien, emplien "to enfold, surround, entangle, involve by inference, contain implicitly," borrowed from Anglo-French emplier, implier "to involve by inference, entail," probably adaptation of emplier (variant of empleier, emploier "to entangle, put to use, employ entry 1") as a vernacular equivalent of Medieval Latin implicāre "to imply, mean by implication," modeled on parallel verbs in Middle English, as applien "to apply," replien "to reply entry 1" and their correspondents in Anglo-French — more at implicate

Note: The genesis of this verb is idiosyncratic, as it has no correspondent in continental French, and even the Anglo-French examples are—to judge by citations in the Anglo-Norman Dictionary—later than the Middle English examples, which are not much earlier than the fifteenth century. Middle French has impliquer as an adaptation of Latin implicāre, but this method of creating vernacular forms of verbs in -plicāre, though common in French, gained little traction in English. Note late and rare Middle English appliquen "to apply" (from Anglo-French and Middle French appliquer), for which the Oxford English Dictionary has no evidence past the sixteenth century.

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Time Traveler
The first known use of imply was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near imply

Cite this Entry

“Imply.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


im·​ply im-ˈplī How to pronounce imply (audio)
implied; implying
: to include or involve as a natural or necessary part even though not put clearly into words
rights imply obligations
an implied warranty
: to express indirectly : suggest rather than say plainly
your remark implies that I am wrong

Legal Definition


transitive verb
im·​ply im-ˈplī How to pronounce imply (audio)
implied; implying
: to recognize as existing by inference or necessary consequence especially on legal or equitable grounds
in ordinary circumstances…the law would imply that it was the duty of the hospital to use due careHaase v. Starnes, 915 S.W.2d 675 (1996)
: to make known indirectly

More from Merriam-Webster on imply

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