I'm not clear on how intimate (in verb form) is perceived. Until I looked it up, I never would have believed (never seen) it used with inanimate objects as subject...I thought to intimate something was only for people to do... Now I'm confused as to how it is perceived. There's an example below about the sleekness of a guy's pair of pants "intimating". Do his pants have volition, or is it the thought behind the choice that the pants wearer implied by wearing them, hoping that audience members would infer something about him...? It feels like "intimate" falls somewhere between "infer" and "imply", or a combination of both somehow...

Am I just making too much of it? Should I just simplify it and allow myself to understand rather that "intimate" = "hint at" in usage?

Here's where I want to use it:

1) "She had returned from fetching the medicine downstairs and asked him directly why the door had been locked. "I don't have my gun nearby, and he ain't acting right," he said, (intimating or implying) that he would have shot her father if he had tried to come into the bedroom; but without his gun he simply locked the door."


2) "...and he ain't acting right," he said. She (intimated or inferred) that he would have shot her father if he had tried...

I want something more sinister than "hinted at", but "imply" or "infer" seem too obvious...

OR a third option, possibly allowing the door to be the actor:

3) "I don't have my gun and he ain't acting right," he said. The locked door - usually left open for better air - intimated that her husband was truly capable of shooting her father, had only he'd been armed."

Could any of these work? It all feels so clunky to me now...

From Vocabulary.com: Theodore Bernstein, in his classic The Careful Writer, gives us a way to keep imply and infer straight: "The implier is the pitcher; the inferrer is the catcher."

(Merriam&Webster) Examples of intimate in a sentence:

Is he really—as his advisers keep intimating to Western journalists—a serious reformer waiting to emerge from the closet? —Murray Scot Tanner, Newsweek, 6 May 2002

The dome tops look like pieces of the older ridged plains, intimating that the domes formed when the plains were pushed upward from below. —Robert T. Pappalardo et al., Scientific American, October 1999

He bounded on stage wearing a polo T-shirt and trousers whose sleekness intimated a large American Express bill. —Caroline Sullivan, Times (London), 15 Oct. 1992

"...trying to intimate that there was more going on than anyone knew..."

  • Be careful with infer and imply. They are not synonymous. The speaker implies something additional to his actual works, the listener infers some meaning additional to the speaker's words.
    – Theresa
    Sep 3, 2018 at 2:28

1 Answer 1


Intimate 2

verb [with object] 1 State or make known: Mr Hutchison has intimated his decision to retire

verb [with clause] 1.1 Imply or hint: he had already intimated that he might not be able to continue


In use, intimating is a hint or statement made intentionally. This precludes inanimate objects from intimating unless the objects represent persons figuratively, as is done in some of the M-W examples you cited.

In the examples you mentioned, the person making the implication is "he", not "she" or "the door". So (1) can work; (2) and (3) don't.

  • Thank you! So the example with the dome tops of the hills "intimating" is an example of anthropomorphizing? I guess if I were a very devoted geologist I would "read" or "listen" to land forms for the histories of their formations...or is that just a kinda clunky/incorrect use of "intimating"?
    – Bea Bonmot
    Apr 29, 2016 at 4:52
  • @BeaBonmot You're welcome. And yes, (some of) the dictionary examples show figurative use of intimating.
    – Lawrence
    Apr 29, 2016 at 5:14
  • @Beabonmot, Awhile I am not a geologist, and have no certainty whatsoever that it is true in this case, sometimes in small communities, such as geologists, ordinary words take on meaning within the community that differs slightly from, though is usually related to the original meaning. This might be the case with the second example from MW.
    – brasshat
    Aug 27, 2016 at 19:00
  • Does anyone else find the ODO/OED quote problematic? My understanding (from usage) is that to intimate something is to communicate it more subtly then to hint at it, not that they are equivalent as the answer suggests. I do no use these words interchangeably. The quoted verb clause case says "imply or hint:" (i.e. equivalent) but then says "he had already intimated" which to me is right on the edge of contradicting itself, but in effect seems to agree with the notion that intimating is to a degree more subtle then hinting. Mar 5, 2017 at 22:24
  • @JoshuaKolden You seem to raise 2 issues: subtlety and tense. I'd accept that hint has a broader semantic range than intimate. Although intimations tend to be 'hidden messages' while hints may be directly stated, it doesn't stop hidden messages from being described as hints. About the quote, I don't see the problem. ODO tends to use the present tense for the word being defined, then provides examples of the word used in various tenses. In any case, the main point of my answer was that intimations are made intentionally, requiring sentience - something not normally attributed to doors.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 5, 2017 at 22:56

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