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Five Words Used By Liars

Five Words Used By Liars


Spotting a liar in a deposition, negotiation, or mediation is an important skill to learn.  There are many ways to help you better detect a liar.  Some require significant training such as trying to detect micro expressions made in a fraction of a second.  Others, like, listening to the “exact words” carefully can be trained fairly easily.

Before identifying some of the words that liars use, it is important to know that when listening for specific words, you must make sure that you are at a heightened sense of awareness.  Many times people can lie to you, make it obvious, and you may still not notice because you are not watching.  That is one of the reasons an attorney should never have his or her head in notes when taking a deposition.

Second, just because a word is used is not the smoking gun of lie detection.  It is a clue.  But it is not the entire picture.  You must evaluate all the clues.


5 Words Used By Liars

Word 1: “That”

“That” when stated before a person, thing, or place, can suggest that a person is trying to distance himself from a person or comment.   Someone proven to be a liar famously stated, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.”

Word 2: “Never”

“Never” is usually used to overemphasize a negative phase.  The answer could easily be no, but there is a reason why the person is using Never.  She wants to emphasize the negative; perhaps to take you off the trail of the lie.  “Did you have sex with her?” Never.

Word 3: “Would”

“Would” when answering a question in the past avoids the actual question.  Did you have sex with her?  I would not do that to you.  The use of “would” is making a statement about the future and not the past.  That person might be thinking, I won’t do it in the future, but I did do it in the past.

Word 4: “Sir” or “Madame”

“Sir” or “Ma’am” when used out of the blue is generally a an attempt at being overly polite and suggestive of being a nice person.  Just as the word “never” is designed to create a ruse, the use of “sir” or “Ma’am” is designed to take you off your path of questioning.  Did you have sex with her?  No, Ma’am.  Be aware, however, that if a person uses that phrase regularly, he or she may just be polite or culturally accustomed to such phrases.

Word 5: “Per Se”

“Per Se” generally implies that a person is playing with the words to try and find a way to answer truthfully.  Did you have sex with her?  Sex, Per se, No.

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Steve Mehta
Steve Mehta
Steve Mehta has been frequently asked to mediate cases that involve a variety of complex and emotional issues, including elder abuse, medical malpractice, real estate, personal injury, employment, probate, and business matters. Since 1999, he has mediated several thousand cases.


  1. WDW,

    Thanks again for your paternalistic comments. I don’t know how I could get through 20 years of practicing law without your assistance. Let me remind you that my comment was just that; a comment. It was not a motion, petition, brief, or any other type of legal document. I proofread and double-check every document I file with the courts. I don’t waste my time trying to be grammatically “perfect” with my commentary to email discussions. At this point, your comments are, for all intents and purposes, moot. I heard you twice the first time.

    Really, I have more important things to do than argue with you about whether my email discussion comments are grammatically perfect or not.

    If you are so quick to criticize others, then why are you too timid to put your full name in your comments, rather than some cryptic initials?

    — Mike Wulfsohn

  2. I could not agree more. In this computer age with no one proofing our emails or posts, grammar mistakes happen, but are fairly unimportant. I liked Mr. Wulfsohn’s comment, but certainly did not like WDW’s. WDW should consider his own glass house and figure out if he wishes to post unnecessarily critical comments in past or present tense. He used quote instead of quoted and require instead of required, which competed with his/her other past tense usage. Be gone with your poisoned posts!

  3. That is funny. I don’t know about other ethnicities, but Irish and Irish-Americans routinely say, “to be perfectly honest” all of the time. I take it to mean to be perfectly frank or direct.

    Kudos to the comment prevention team by adding a math question and a “captcha” as requirements to post. I am hoping for 2 math questions and no captcha as my eyesite declines.

  4. How about:

    “I don’t remember right now.”
    “If you have a document, it could refresh my memory.”
    “I could be wrong, but. . . . ”
    “I do not recall EXACTLY what anyone said..”
    “I REALLY do not THINK so at this time.”

    These responses mean nothing. Just some answers I hear in depositions sometimes.

  5. That’s funny…I thought that the five words used by liars under oath were “To tell you the truth…”

    Although many can get by with only four: “To be perfectly honest…”

  6. Interesting speculation. How about this response, “Well, per se, I would never do that, sir.” Does that example equate to a 100% lie or liar? Is that 5 times worse than using just one of these examples? What kind of research went into coming up with these “Five Words Used By Liars?” Was there a a research study with actual attorneys and witnesses? Is this based only upon depositions? Does this conclusion involve the use of polygraph testing to support (somewhat) the reliability of these supposed “liar’s words?” Was there a control group used for this study? Or, is this just pure speculation and “gossip at the water cooler?” It is, again, an interesting premise, but appears to be nothing more than speculation.

    1. Your comment would merit greater attention if you did not incorrectly include the “?” within the text that you quote.
      You repeatedly quoted the author’s text which was in the declarative, not in the interrogative. Your asking a question about the quoted text requires that the interrogative be outside of the quotation marks, not within.

      1. Thank you for the gammar lesson, WDW. The merit of any comment is in the opinion of the reader, and is not relevant to grammatical errors.

        1. Michael,

          The merit of a comment is certainly related to its effectiveness.

          Have you ever known a judge who was not negatively influenced by a poorly expressed argument replete with errors of grammar, punctuation, and spelling?

          As lawyers, one of our important tools is effective communication. If we foul our written messages with bad English we shoot ourselves in our rhetorical feet, to the detriment of our client.

  7. I appreciate the attempt and find 1 and 5 intriguing and helpful but disagree with the others, but honest people use the others all of the time. Never is a very purposeful word and the sir and madame usage is very proper in how I was raised. There are many things that I would not do.

    For example, I have never used illicit drugs and I would never use them, sir.

    I hope for further discussion on this and need all the help I can get at ferreting out liars.


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