Have you ever known twins who were so much alike that you ultimately gave up and called them both by the same name?
Some words in the English language are so similar in appearance that we really have to stop and think to use them correctly.
Imply and infer are two such “twins.” Imply refers to the sender of a message. It is a hint or suggestion. It can be sent with words, tone of voice or body language. The one who receives the message infers; he or she concludes or surmises based on available evidence: the baby implied his dislike for strained carrots when he spit them out; I inferred I should find a more desirable dish as I washed carrots off my face.
Two other lookalikes are affect and effect. The first is a verb meaning to influence or have an impact on. The latter is most often a noun, the result or outcome. The only time effect is a verb is when it means “to create.” You will never affect (influence) my opinion on that issue, and the effect (result) of our upcoming vote will effect (create) only negative reactions.
Certainly not identical, but still similar, are elicit and illicit. As a verb, elicit means to draw forth or bring out. I try hard to elicit your interest in words. A simple adjective, illicit describes something not sanctioned by custom or law.
Perhaps you have met twins who look alike yet are practically the opposite in personality. Two of my favorites here are gourmet and gourmand. A gourmet could be a chef or a journalist who gives restaurant ratings; he or she is a connoisseur of the best foods and wines. On the other hand, a gourmand is a glutton, tends to eat too much, and is definitely not one you would choose to entertain with white tablecloths and linen napkins.
Remember, the next time you meet up with and want to use one of these pairs, first do a double take.
— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years, with a special interest in vocabulary, grammar and usage. If you have grammar questions you would like answered, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org