Making Inferences – Advanced

This article builds on your knowledge of making inferences to explore "if-then" statements. Read the article and complete the practice exercises. When you're finished, take a few moments to reflect on what you've learned in this unit so far.

  • In your own words, what does it mean to make an inference?
  • What's the difference between an inference and a guess? 
  • How can making inferences help you in your reading? What about your writing?

Previously, we covered the basics of inferences and reasonable conclusions. Now we are going to look at another strategy to help you make valid inferences: the if-then statement. To use an if-then statement, look at the information presented in the reading and see if you could rephrase it into a statement using the words "if" and "then", which establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

For example:

In the 1800s in England, laws were applied differently depending on the gender of the accused. Women could not own land or vote. Women were barred from receiving a death sentence for crimes that a man could be executed for because people thought it would be too shocking to see a woman hanged publicly. In some places, men could be fined for certain behaviors done in the presence of a woman, such as swearing or spitting.

What if-then statements could we make based on the paragraph above? Let's go through sentence-by-sentence.

  1. If we were back in England in the 1800s, then the laws would be applied differently for men and women.
  2. If we were back in England in the 1800s, then women could not own land or vote.
  3. If a woman committed a capital crime ("capital" meaning one that could earn a death sentence), then she would not be executed.
  4. If a woman were hung, then the public would be shocked.
  5. If a man swore in the presence of a woman, then he could be fined.

Broken down like this you can see how much easier it is to make logical inferences. Suppose you were asked if a woman who murdered her husband would be executed.

If-then statement #3 would tell you that the answer is "no", even though that information is not directly mentioned in the text. If you were asked if women were involved in government, you would say "no" because you know that they could not vote (#2). If you were asked if men could own real estate, you would say "yes" because #2 indicates that the fact that women could NOT own real estate was different from what men could do.


Exercise: Now do the same thing with the next paragraph. Write your answers first, and then check your work below.

Many people don't realize that our sun is actually a star. Our sun seems very large because it is so close to us; however, some stars are actually much larger than our sun. Betelguese (pronounced beetle-juice), a star located in the constellation Orion, is much larger than our own sun. In fact, if it were located where our sun is located, its surface would engulf both Earth and Mars. Because other stars are so distant, they appear to be fainter, which is why we cannot see them in the daytime. Betelguese is the 8th brightest star in the night sky. To find Betelguese, first locate the constellation Orion. This star forms his left shoulder.


Answer: These are just examples, but your answers should be similar to them.

  1. If something is far away, then it will appear smaller.
  2. If something looks smaller, then it may not be smaller if it is far away.
  3. If a star is much larger than the sun, then it could be Betelguese.
  4. If a star is fainter than the sun, then it cannot be seen during the day.
  5. If a star is the 8th brightest in the night sky, then it is Betelguese.
  6. If you know which constellation a star is in, then it is easier to find.

From here, there are dozens of conclusions you could infer. For example, if you were asked why Star A appears smaller than Star B, you would know it might be because it is actually smaller. Then again, it might also be smaller because it is farther away. The if-then statement is a useful strategy that can help you make inferences and increase your reading comprehension.


Practice 1: Write an if-then statement for each sentence in the following paragraph.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. The population in Nicaragua, hovering at approximately 6 million, is multiethnic. Segments of the population include indigenous native tribes from the Mosquito Coast, Europeans, Africans, Asians, and people of Middle Eastern origin. The main language is Spanish; although, native tribes on the eastern coast speak their native languages, such as Miskito, Sumo, and Rama, as well as English Creole. The mixture of cultural traditions has generated substantial diversity in art, cuisine, literature, and music.


Practice 2: Write an if-then statement for each sentence in the following paragraph.

Childhood obesity is a condition where excess body fat negatively affects a child's health or well-being. Since methods to directly determine the amount of body fat are difficult, the diagnosis of obesity is often based on the Body Mass Index (BMI). Due to the rising prevalence of obesity in children and its many adverse health effects, obesity is being recognized as a serious public health concern. The term "overweight" is often used instead of "obese" for children because it is less stigmatizing.

Source: Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2021, 1:22 PM