Commonly Confused: Three Common Pairs Articles / Commonly Confused

Commonly Confused:

Three Common Pairs


Imply and Infer:

Imply and infer are commonly confused because, while they don’t really sound alike, their meanings are tied together like two halves of a whole. Similar to give and take or teach and learn, imply and infer are opposite sides of the same situation. A speaker, writer, or other information-giver implies something that a reader, listener, or other information-seeker infers. With imply, the responsibility lies with the information giver, who is indicating something with his information, but not stating it outright. With infer, the onus is on the information receiver, who is using the information given to draw a reasonable conclusion.

In his speech, the candidate loosely implied that taxes wouldn’t be increased upon his election. A year later, the newly named official defended his tax increase by suggesting the voters merely inferred the lack of a tax hike.

Latter and Former:

Latter and former are often used to refer to a pair that has already been referenced earlier, usually—but not necessarily—within the same sentence:

I had the option of walking to school or listening to my father’s lecture as he drove me; I choose the former, as it seemed the least tedious way to start my day.

When referring back to a pair, former indicates the first option and latter indicates the last option. As simplistic as it sounds, if it makes it easier to remember, former and first both begin with F and latter and last both begin with L. Easy peasy.

When there is no pair involved, former indicates a prior option and latter indicates the following, after, or last option.

Our former daycare was too expensive for us to continue.

The latter part of the twentieth century was filled with technological advances.

Formerly and Formally:

As we’ve just seen, former refers to the first in a pair or a prior something. It’s no surprise that formerly is the adverb form that means at an earlier time.

She was formerly a dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.

Conversely, the word formally is derived from formal and refers to something done in an official or proper—i.e., formal—way or something done according to or true to form.

The invitation was formally addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Horace P. Smythe.

Unfortunately, these are often confused, even though their derivatives have wholly unique meanings. But the best part about formerly and formally is that if you’re really clever, you can work them both into a grammatically correct sentence. Who’s feeling clever? Leave me a comment!

Happy Writing!

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