We’ve all been there: You’re on a roll writing your latest piece, in the midst of a sentence, and suddenly… What word goes here? Are these words really synonyms? As a writer, you have a never-ending stream of words running through your brain. Understandably, you mix them up sometimes. Many writers are familiar with these commonly confused words and tricks to remember them, but what about those words that don’t have handy tricks?
The word imply is one such word. Imply is a verb meaning to indicate or suggest without stating explicitly. Though imply doesn’t have a tricky counterpart like compliment and complement, there are many words with which it can be confused in writing. Some of these can lead to serious miscommunications, so let’s explore a few.
Imply vs. infer
Though these two words are often confused, they’re actually almost opposites. To imply is to say something without stating it directly; it is the action of a writer.
Example: She never asked for a cupcake, but her constant glances toward the plate implied that she wanted one.
On the other hand, to infer is to come to a conclusion about something that has not been directly stated; it is the action of a reader.
Example: Though she hadn’t asked for one, I could infer from the look on her face that she wanted a cupcake.
Imply vs. suggest
Imply and suggest are more similar in meaning, but you still can’t use them interchangeably. To suggest simply means to introduce for consideration; this can be direct or indirect.
Example: If you’re traveling through Tallahassee, I suggest stopping at Hopkins Eatery for lunch.
This suggestion is direct, whereas implying is indirect.
Example: By saying that Hopkins has the best sandwich in town, he implied that they should stop there for lunch.
Imply vs. insinuate
These two are tricky because their difference depends heavily on connotation. Both actions say something indirectly, but to insinuate means to suggest or hint slyly. This word generally takes on a negative connotation.
Example: When you question what she was wearing, you insinuate that it was her fault.
Imply, however, can have a more neutral connotation.
Example: The existence of a painting implies the existence of a painter.
Imply vs. indicate
Imply and indicate are another set that might be confused despite their vastly different meanings. While imply, as we know, means to state indirectly, to indicate means to point out or to state or express. It is much more direct and doesn’t require a conclusion on the reader’s part.
Example: The teacher wasted no time on mystery; when asked about his favorite student, he indicated to me.
When implying, you’re showing rather than telling.
Example: Though the teacher couldn’t show favoritism, he implied it when he praised one student more than the others.
Imply vs. state
State is even more direct than indicate. To state is to declare definitely or specifically. Something stated is straightforward, with no room for interpretation.
Example: The journalist worked hard not to show any bias in her article; she only stated facts.
Something implied, on the other hand, is indirect and requires interpretation in order to be understood.
Example: Though the reporting was supposed to be unbiased, her tone and word choice implied her opinion on the case.