Inference

A detective, in a library, examining the pages of a book with a magnifying glass, reading between the lines

A detective looking at a book with a magnifying glass, reading between the lines

Sometimes you will have to work out what is meant in a text. The technical term for this is inference, although it is also referred to as 'reading between the lines'. This is where you will need to look for what is suggested, rather than just what is being stated clearly or obviously. Detective skills are required.

Depending on what you are reading, you will find different things inferred. It could be:

  • a general fact or a precise piece of information
  • emotions and feelings
  • the author's opinions or feelings

To infer successfully there are a number of things you should do. For example:

  • Look for clues or references in the text.
  • Think about the connotations of words used in the text.
  • Match something in the text to your own understanding, experience or knowledge.

Read the following extract.

The men walked down the streets to the mine with their heads bent close to their chests. In groups of five or six they scurried on. It was impossible to recognise individuals from the small gaps between their caps, pulled down over their eyes, and the tightly bound scarves tied tightly over the bottom half of their faces."

You should be able to work out that it was cold and windy. You probably arrived at this answer because you associated hats pulled down and scarves with winter or cold weather. You know from personal experience that people keep their heads down when walking against the wind and the author gave you another clue with the word "scurried" which suggests the men were hurrying to reach their destination.