How To Tell If Someone Is Lying In Email Or Online

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Emails and online correspondence are great mediums for liars. Namely, they don’t have to see the person that they are lying to. Body language doesn’t play a factor, and no one can notice the slight quiver in their voice. They can say whatever they want while appearing as confident as someone who is telling the truth.

In short, you don’t have to be a good liar to tell a convincing lie on the Internet.

However, there are a few ways to tell whether or not someone is telling a big, fat fib. Below are some of those ways to figure out whether or not someone is pulling the virtual wool over your eyes. Are the determining factors perfect? No. Neither are lie detector results. Nevertheless, they are a good start if you have a quick mind and generally know people fairly well.

Abnormal Changes In Syntax

One signal that I have found to be a determining factor as to whether or not someone is lying in email or online is their syntax. Any sudden changes or awkward patterns that deviate from their norm may be a way for you to tell that they are in fact lying. It’s pretty simple, really.

The most obvious change in syntax are shortened sentences. This typically follows normal, fluid email threads or conversations. Why? I’m no psychologist, but I’d assume that they are either thinking on their feet or do not want to waste any more time. Particular situations (based on my experience) may include owed money or scheduled meetings. On the contrary, a liar may spend a great deal of time crafting their web, concocting the perfect tale that takes up a great deal of page space to make it clear that they “aren’t lying” when they actually are.

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Basically, take note of their sentence and response lengths. Any sudden changes could be a sign that you need to get out of that conversation fast.

Another qualifier is that of negation. Generally speaking, liars online and offline will flip their language around. “Exciting” becomes “not boring” and “happy” becomes “not sad”, so pay attention to this. It may get you out of some bad circumstances.

Varying Response Times During IM

As already mentioned, liars have the advantage of not having to physically speak to the person that they are telling their tales to when chatting online. If your intuition tells you that a person is lying, pay attention to their response times. Fast, short replies that don’t answer many questions could mean that the individual is – again – thinking on their feet. Long, drawn-out response times could mean that they are trying to come up with the perfect response that answers all your questions.

This certainly ties into the abnormal changes in syntax, so in this case, use both notifiers in conjunction with each other.

You can also take advantage of the technology itself. Services like Facebook and devices like the iPhone show whenever a user has read a message and when they are responding. Take note of the timespan between when they’ve read a message and their response, and using features that show them physically typing, you can key in on their “speech” patterns. Does it appear as if they are stumbling over words, backspacing, rewriting, etc.? How does this compare to earlier conversations?

Status Updates Simply Don’t Line Up

This is one of the most common occurrences, and it’s happened to me more than once. If you’ve ever received a text from your friend that says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t make it because I’m sick”, and then you found a status update written at the same exact time about the fun they are having at the waterpark, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This just isn’t cool.

Likewise, you can get a bit more involved with this. Pay attention to pictures that they post days after saying they have a conflict. Furthermore, look at their multiple social media accounts! What they tell you on Facebook may be totally different than what’s on their Twitter profile.


Calling a liar out is tough, but finding one out is even tougher. Using these tips, you may be able to make it happen, but don’t jump to conclusions. For instance, your friend who is sick may still Tweet about being able watch a movie with his girlfriend in the comfort of his own home (rather than go snowboarding with you). This is totally understandable. However, be wary at the same time.

Are these good tips for being able to tell if someone is lying in an email or online? What other tips do you have for us here at MakeUseOf?

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Comments (15)
  • Kalin

    Though these tips can be helpful, they shouldn’t be considered rules. Ideally, you shouldn’t even be entirely conscious of using them. Intuition, context sensitivity, familiarity, and common sense are all you really need. Details like these fall under one or more of those categories.

    People lie in person too. Whether in person or online, if someone makes a point of telling you how successful they are, they’re probably either lying or an egotistical braggart you don’t want to be around anyway. If they’re evasive, there may be something they don’t want you to know. If they contradict themselves on details about themselves and their life within a fairly short period of time, they may be lying or may have lied before. If they say they’re “fine”, they’re either not fine at all or they don’t want to be talking to you at the moment. Et cetera.

  • Govertz J

    English isn’t my birth language, and I could easily construct sentences where I write not boring when I should have used exciting.
    When I’m chatting in english, it sometimes takes me forever to answer, because I have to think about every word I write.
    Those mistakes doesn’t mean that I’m lying, they shows that I’m not that confident with the language.
    Before you judge some one a liar, you maybe should se if the nationality of that person is from an english speaking country.

  • Alex Downs

    My thoughts are regarding a liar using smaller shorter responses, because like in real life someone who is lying gives small brief deals; this way they have less to remember. Now mind you easy one can easily reread the old lies, but the issue is that it’s still a matter then finding a more intricate lie to cover up the finer details express. Plus, one could simply chalk it up to the fact that brains are hardwired a certain way and the guise of the internet doesn’t simply eliminated an entire way of thinking. People who are paranoid in real life are likely to be paranoid online for example. This was an informative article because I love discussing the art of lying and how to expose it.

  • null

    Renamed Article: How to Lose a Friend or Start a Needless Fight in 3+ Easy Steps

  • Vivek Patel

    Obvious is a long gone thing nowadays.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.