4 (More) Commonly Misused Words

by Melissa MacAulay

Published at 2015-05-04

Studying philosophy has given me a special appreciation for logical words and the work they do. Some of these words, however, are commonly misused. (I already touched on a few of them in my last blog post.) Here are some more pointers! 

“Infer” and “Imply”

The confusion between the verbs “infer” and “imply” is widespread. You might see something like this, for example, and think nothing of it: 
“Her tone of voice inferred that she was angry.” 

Inferring, however, is something that only a person (or thinking thing) can do. It is what you do when you use your brain to figure something out, based on the evidence before you. Inanimate objects — like sentences, images, and tones of voice — cannot infer anything, since they aren’t thinking things. What they can do, however, is imply things:
“Her tone of voice implied that she was angry.”

A person or thing implies something else when it strongly suggests, or provides evidence, for that something. To infer, on the other hand, is to be on the receiving end of that implication — that is, when something implies something else, it may lead you to make an inference: 
“I inferred from her tone of voice that she was angry.”

To imply means to strongly suggest. 
  To infer means to deduce, conclude, or figure out. 

“Arguments” and “Statements”

Another sentence that you might not think twice about is the following: 
“His argument was true.”

An argument, however, cannot be “true” or “false,” because is not a single statement. It is rather a series of statements which work together in a special way in order to establish something. A statement by itself — like “Today is Thursday” or “This cup is red” — may be true or false, but an argument is not the kind of thing that is true or false. For example, you wouldn’t say that Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is “true” or “false” — it’s much more natural to say, for instance, that it is “good” or “bad.” 

Like a book, an argument as a whole is either good or bad – or in more technical terms, valid or invalid. It is valid (good) if it is a logical argument; it is invalid (bad) if it commits some sort of fallacy.
“His thesis statement was true, and his arguments were valid.”

(Bonus: When an argument is valid, and its premises are actually true, then the argument is said to be “sound.”)

Statements (including individual premises and conclusions) are true or false. 

Arguments are either valid (good) or invalid (bad).