Inference means arriving at a conclusion using reasoning or evidence, which makes them more than just assumptions. Making inferences is a valuable skill for children, as it will help them pick apart texts and uncover meanings, themes, and character motivations.
What does inference mean?
Inference can be thought of as any step in logic that allows someone to reach a conclusion based on evidence or reasoning
In any situation where something is uncertain, and there are bits of evidence or clues, we’re likely to make inferences. For example, when we make inferences while reading, we use the author’s evidence to draw our logical conclusions.
A writer doesn’t always state specific facts about a character or situation. Instead, we can use the information given to us to figure certain things out for ourselves.
Synonyms of the term inference include:
What are the forms of inference?
Before we learn more about inference and discover the difference between imply and infer, we must understand that we can make two kinds of speculation: inductive and deductive.
Let’s break these two types down:
- Inductive inference begins with making observations or carefully reading a piece of text. By reading and analyzing, you can notice patterns and start to form your own opinion or conclusion. A vital part of this inference is using evidence to prove the conclusion or inference drawn. Then, you can combine the evidence, patterns, and observations to create your hypothesis.
- Deductive inference works oppositely – you begin with an idea or theory. Then, you test the idea by collecting observations to address it. Once enough observations and evidence have been collected, the original concept will either be proved or disproved.
The two forms of inference work in opposite ways. An easy way to remember the difference is that inductive inference creates an inference at the end, whereas deductive inference begins with one. Making inductive inferences is more open-ended and leaves more room for exploration – it’s about developing an idea rather than proving or disproving one!
In school, children will be taught inductive inference. First, they’ll be taught to read and observe, then use evidence to conclude from what they’ve read.
What are some examples of inference?
Before we compare imply and infer, let’s strengthen our knowledge with a few examples of inference. This will help us to see how we make inferences in our everyday speech and writing:
1) Everyday speech:
Using clues, you can use inference to find out about a person’s actions or intentions. We use deduction a lot in everyday life – not just in reading. Here are a few inference examples to show you how we might make an inference in our everyday speech:
- ‘She’s making herself a snack, so she must be hungry.’
- ‘He’s taken his coat, so it must be cold outside.’
- ‘They’re an animal lover, so I bet they love cats too.’
These inferences are based on something seen, and there’s evidence to back them up.
2) Inference in reading:
We can also make inferences when we’re reading a text, whether a story or a poem. Authors rely on us to make inferences to get their meaning across in a more subtle (and usually more creative) way.
The author gives us clues about what’s happening; we, the reader, are left to figure it out for ourselves. If it was all spelled out for us and there was nothing left to infer, there wouldn’t be much room for imagination!
Not all inferences are ‘correct,’ though. Sometimes we can jump to conclusions without much evidence to support them. This is particularly common in mystery and detective stories, where the writer might use red herrings to trick the reader into a false conclusion.
Let’s break down how we can infer something from a piece of text:
- Feeling excited, he packed his swimming trunks, sunglasses, and sun cream into the suitcase and was good to go.
From this example, we can infer that the character is getting ready to go on holiday. The swimming trunks, sunglasses, and sun cream are all items we’d associate with a holiday, so it’s a logical inference. However, he’s also ‘feeling excited,’ which means he is about to leave for the holiday and not packing up to leave.
However, we can’t blindly trust what the author tells us! Sometimes, they throw in red herrings, which causes us to infer the wrong thing.
3) Other uses of inference
The term inference is also used in science or maths about data.
For example, suppose scientific research shows that a particular age group is more susceptible to heart problems. In that case, scientists may infer that this age group isn’t getting enough exercise or is leading less healthy lifestyles.
Inferences in science and maths need to be backed up with evidence and data – they should be much more accurate than if we’re inferring a character’s actions in a book.
What is the difference between imply and infer?
Now that we’ve learned a bit about inference and seen it in action let’s look at the difference between imply and infer. These words are somewhat related but have different meanings, so it’s important not to get them muddled up!
Infer, as we know, means to make an inference.
Imply, however, means to suggest something without explicitly saying it.
But while we can now see that imply and infer have opposite meanings, they are still related. Both imply and imagine things that we use a lot in communication.
For example, a writer might imply that something is the case without explicitly stating it. This means it’s up to us, the reader, to use our best judgment and infer what the writer means. We’re also likely to imply and infer in regular, everyday speech. When someone subtly implies something rather than outright stating it, some reading between the lines and inference might be needed to understand what’s being said.
When we infer something, we call it an inference. However, implying something is called an implication.
Why are inferences meaningful?Top of Form
We’ve learned about inferences and the difference between imply and infer, but why do inferences matter?
Inferences help us decipher and reach conclusions to find meaning based on what someone says or writes. Without speculation, we would treat what we hear or read in a very literal sense. Inferring is to read between the lines and make assumptions based on more minor details.
Drawing inferences is also essential for understanding the world around us. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to understand much at all. Even with evidence and proof of something, we still need to be able to make inferences from that evidence to understand its meaning.
Imagine a world without inferences: What does that mean if you saw snow falling outside? It’s snowing, yes, but what else? From the snow, we infer that it’s cold because it needs to be below 0 °C for ice to form. If we didn’t make that inference beforehand, we’d have to go outside and feel the freezing air first.
Inferences and being able to imply and infer are also essential skills for children as they progress through their English education. Making inferences will help them unpack more complex texts and make crucial judgments about their meaning.