Origin: 1520–30; Related forms
< Latin inferre,
equivalent to in- in-2
to bring, carry, bear1
in·fer·a·ble, in·fer·i·ble, in·fer·ri·ble, adjective
mis·in·fer, verb, mis·in·ferred, mis·in·fer·ring.
pre·in·fer, verb (used with object), pre·in·ferred, pre·in·fer·ring.
re·in·fer, verb (used with object), re·in·ferred, re·in·fer·ring.
sub·in·fer, verb, sub·in·ferred, sub·in·fer·ring.
su·per·in·fer, verb (used with object), su·per·in·ferred, su·per·in·fer·ring.
Can be confused: imply
(see usage note at the current entry).
1. deduce, reason, guess.
has been used to mean “to hint or suggest” since the 16th century by speakers and writers of unquestioned ability and eminence: The next speaker criticized the proposal, inferring that it was made solely to embarrass the government.
Despite its long history, many 20th-century usage guides condemn the use, maintaining that the proper word for the intended sense is imply
and that to use infer
is to lose a valuable distinction between the two words. Although the claimed distinction has probably existed chiefly in the pronouncements of usage guides, and although the use of infer to mean “to suggest” usually produces no ambiguity, the distinction too has a long history and is widely observed by many speakers and writers.