Inference is what you, as a reader, conclude based on reading a text.  Those conclusions are not stated directly in the text; they are thoughts that you develop based on evidence in the text.  Text evidence consists of content, point of view, language, and tone—the elements that an author uses to create meaning in a text.  These elements can be manipulated to imply meaning instead of stating it directly.  The meaning that’s implied and that you create based on your conclusions is what constitutes inference.  Making inferences is a comprehension strategy used by proficient readers to “read between the lines,” make connections, and draw conclusions about the text’s meaning and purpose.

You already make inferences all of the time.  For example, imagine you go over to a friend’s house and they point at the sofa and say, “Don’t sit there, Cindy came over with her baby again.”  What could you logically conclude?  First, you know there must be a reason not to sit where your friend is pointing.  Next, the reason not to sit there is related to the fact that Cindy just visited with her baby.  You don’t know what exactly happened, but you can make an inference and don’t need to ask any more questions to know that you do not want to sit there.

mini try it #1

Imagine you witness the following situations at different times. What can you infer about each situation?

  1. You see a woman pushing a baby stroller down the street.
  2. You are at a corner and see two parked cars at an intersection, and the driver in back starts honking his horn.
  3. You are walking down the street, and suddenly a dog comes running out of an opened door with its tail between its legs.


To make inferences from reading, consider the elements of the text, including content, point of view, language, and tone.  Or, you may want to take two or more details from the reading and see if you can draw a conclusion.  Remember, making an inference is not just making a wild guess.  You need to make a judgment that can be supported, just as you could reasonably infer there is a baby in a stroller, but not reasonably infer that there are groceries, even though both would technically be a “guess”.


mini try it #2

Read this paragraph.

Hybrid cars are good for the environment, but they may not perform as well as cars that run only on gasoline. The Toyota Prius gets great gas mileage and has low emissions making it a good “green” option. However, many people think that it is unattractive. The Prius also cannot accelerate as quickly as other models, and cannot hold as many passengers as larger gas-fueled SUVs and vans. Compared to similar gas-fueled options, hybrid cars also cost more money up front. A new hybrid car costs almost $3,500 more than the same car configured to run just on gasoline.

Based on the paragraph, which of the following is the most accurate, logical inference?

  1. hybrid cars are more dangerous than other options
  2. Toyota is making a lot of money from the Prius
  3. cars that use gasoline are going to destroy the environment
  4. hybrid cars may not be the best choice for everyone

The ability to make accurate, logical inferences based on evidence is a key critical thinking and reading skill.  Inferences that are incorrect account for a number of logical errors or fallacies, which are often the result of inferences not appropriately based on evidence.

View the following video to review the concept of inference, which is applied to reading fiction, reading non-fiction, and reading real-life situations.

try it

Based on the article “Forget Shorter Showers” by Derrick Jensen, which of the statements below is the most accurate, logical inference?

  1. If things remain as they are now, people will continue to exist in a no-win environmental situation.
  2. All people who live simply are unrealistic about the outcomes of doing so.
  3. Big manufacturers and conglomerates play on humans’ inherent guilt.