Inferences [reading between the lines]

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What conclusion can you make from the following paragraph?

As a child growing up in the 40’s, I would often go pass the toy store on my way home from school. I never did go in, but I often would stop and watch the toy train go around and around through the window. My family never had much money, so I would only watch and dream. 

Possible Conclusions

  • A. He came from a poor family.
  • B. He did not go in the store, because he could not buy anything.
  • C. He really wanted a toy train.
  • D. The toy store was on his way home.


A, B, and C can be inferred.

  • A is implied because the passage says, his family never had much money, they were poor.
  • B is also implied because the family didn’t have much money.
  • C is implied because he would watch and dream.
  • D is not implied because the passage says “I would often go pass the toy store” implying he didn’t go pass the toy store every day.

What conclusion can be made from the following paragraph?

Few of us drive down the road looking for people holding cardboard signs.  At best when we see them, we quickly refocus our eyes on more pleasant scenes, all too often stereotyping them as lazy, or worse yet, as scammers – people attempting to only take advantage of our sympathies.  

Possible Conclusions

  • A. People holding cardboard signs on the street make us feel uncomfortable.
  • B. We don’t understand all the reasons why people are on the street asking for help.
  • C. People should not be standing on street corners asking for help.


A and B are inferred, because the passage says, “we quickly refocus our eyes on more pleasant scenes”. In other words, we turn from the uncomfortable to something that is more pleasant. And because we “all too often stereotype”, it implies we don’t understand there’s more than one reason.

What happens when a writer implies, or infers, the main idea?

The simple answer is, you must figure it out by looking at supporting details. Read the selection carefully and look closely at the supporting details, and then ask yourself the question, what is the point the writer is making?

Richard Carrigan, MSE

Richard Carrigan has been an educator for over 30 years and a filmmaker for the past ten years. He has experience teaching English as a Second Language in Asia and teaching university students in the United States. He earned his undergraduate degree from Loma Linda University and his graduate degree from Shenandoah University.