Posted by: Jack Henry | June 2, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Mistaken Word Pairs

Happy Thursday to you!

I frequently listen to the radio and podcasts, and I often hear words being used in ways that are a little off. Over the past few weeks, I heard the following word pairs being misused. The definitions are similar, but the words have distinct meanings:

  • expect vs. suspect
  • assume vs. presume
  • imply vs. infer

I’m not sure why these nuances thrill me so. Some people (my husband, one of my sons, the cashier who works the “15 items or less” lane at my neighborhood grocery store) think I’m a stickler, and then some people (my mom, my best friend, and some of you, I hope) find these subtleties interesting. If you are interested, read on.

I’ll start with the words expect and suspect. Both words, when used as verbs, look to the future, but they are looking with slightly different moods. Here are the definitions along with examples of proper use:

  • expect: to look for (mentally); to look forward to, as to something that is believed to be about to happen or come; to have a previous apprehension of, whether of good or evil, to look for with some confidence; to anticipate

Example: I expect to have the project plans by the end of the day.

  • suspect: to imagine to exist; to have a slight or vague opinion of the existence of, without proof, and often upon weak evidence or no evidence; to mistrust; to surmise

Example: I suspect that John will arrive late to dinner with a fantastic excuse.

Another pair of words that are often confused are assume and presume. These words are a little tricker because both words mean “to take something as true”; however, there is a slight difference in meaning.

  • assume: to take as true with little supporting evidence

Example: I assume that everyone likes chocolate as much as I do.

  • presume: to be confident or have evidence that something is true

Example: Just because you failed this test, don’t presume you’ll fail the next one.

And finally, let’s look at the words imply and infer. These words get mixed up a lot because they both deal with indirect suggestions:

  • imply: to suggest or to say something in an indirect way

Tip: When we imply something, we’re hinting at what we mean without saying it directly.

Example: He didn’t promise, but he did imply that he would take the job.

  • infer: to suppose or come to a conclusion, especially based on indirect suggestion

Tip: When we make an educated guess about something we think someone implied, we’re inferring.

Example: You can probably infer that she won’t be back based on her shocked expression and hasty retreat.

It might help to think of imply and infer almost as opposites. When you imply, you are giving a hint about something. When you infer you are making an educated guess about something.

I expect you all to have a wonderful day today.

Donna Bradley Burcher |Technical Editor, Advisory | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

Pronouns she/her/hers

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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