To infer is to make a conclusion based on facts. It is one of the most common skills proficient readers use. Skillful readers infer in order to:

  1. figure out the antecedents for pronouns
  2. determine meanings of unknown words form context clues
  3. figure out the grammatical function of unknown words
  4. understand intonation of characters’ words
  5. identify character’s beliefs, personalities, and motivations
  6. understand characters’ relationships to each other
  7. provide details about the setting
  8. provide explanations for events or ideas in the text
  9. offer details for events
  10. understand the author’s view of the world
  11. recognize the author’s biases
  12. relate what is happening in the text with their own lives
  13. offer conclusions from facts based in the text

Making inferences is common in standardized tests like MAP and PASS. Questions tend to sound something like, “What can you conclude/deduce/infer from the following text?” In this standardized-testing context, synonyms for “infer” are:

  • conclude,
  • deduce,
  • assume, and
  • make/come to a conclusion.

Additionally, test questions might ask:

  • What does the author imply in this text?
  • Based on this passage,
    • which of the following is likely/probable/possible?
    • what conclusion can you draw about…?
  • What does this passage/the author suggest about … ?

Inferring can be tricky. If your inference isn’t based on facts, it’s little more than a guess.

Here are two activities for inferring:

See also the “If-” activity.

Implying and Inferring

Very often, we as readers are inferring what an author has implied. To imply means to suggest something without directly stating it. Its adjectival form is “implication.” In order for an implication to be truly successful, the listener/reader must also do his/her part and make the inference suggested in the implication.

However, we can infer something that is not even implied. For example, an individual might yawn during a presentation and the presenter infer that the individual is bored. It could, in fact, be the case that the individual stayed up all night with a sick child and while he is fascinated with the presentation, is exhausted and simply unable to keep from yawning.

The list of inferences is from Kylene Beers’s When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do, on page 65.

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