What do you call someone who pretends to be your friend but is actually your enemy?

A friend suggested spy for me, but that does not nearly describe the word I need for an English project. The character is very good at manipulating how people see him. He's a good liar. And pretends to be your friend but actually is your enemy.

  • 22
    You call him a friend. You wont know who your real friends are until after you have been locked alone in a room together to starve to death.
    – emory
    Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 23:01
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    If your friend suggested spy, I don't think he's really your friend. I think he's a spy.
    – T. C.
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 13:40
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    I'll leave "imposter" here, because it hasn't been mentioned yet.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 15:03
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    Per American teenager slang, 'frenemy' ;)
    – Bobo
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 15:24
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    @Bobo: I think teenagers would refer to such a person as "bitch". I think the term is actually quite appropriate given the description of the person, but may not be considered appropriate for a term paper. I would certainly consider using the term for such a person in an informal essay or fictional narrative.
    – jxh
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 16:31

17 Answers 17


After you discover how he has turned on you, you might call him:

  • a false friend [not to be confused with the linguistic term of the same name]:
    not faithful or loyal : treacherous <a false friend> (m-w.com "false", def. 4a)
  • a traitor:
    one who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty (m-w.com def 1)
  • a backstabber:
    [one who engages in] betrayal (as by a verbal attack against one not present) especially by a false friend (m-w.com def. 1)
  • a double-crosser:
    to cheat or deceive (someone) especially by doing something that is different from what you said you would do (m-w.com def. 1)
  • a two-timer:
    1: a double-crosser
    2: one who betrays (a spouse or lover) by secret lovemaking with another (m-w.com)
  • disloyal:
    failing to support or be true to someone or something : not loyal or faithful to your friends, family, country, etc. (m-w.com)

  • perfidious:
    not able to be trusted : showing that someone cannot be trusted : characterized by perfidy (the act of betraying someone or something : the state of not being loyal) (m-w.com)

  • 2
    Your last selection is most excellent, sir!
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 2:34
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    Good selection, but in my experience (might be a UK thing) "two-timer" is more associated with somebody in a relationship who is having an affair. I've never heard it used except for "two-timing" (cheating) in a relationship. Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 12:30
  • What about enemy agent, secret agent, double agent, turncoat, defector and mole - all subtle differences depending on how and when the 'enemy' nature is revealed.
    – Jasmine
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 20:19
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    @Jasmine, those are all good words, but they fall under the spy category that the OP explicitly rejected, presumably because of the connotation of working for an opposing organization.
    – Hellion
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 20:22
  • I am assuming the friend suggested spy because that's the genre we're in. I made it into an answer.
    – Jasmine
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 20:33

There are lots of possible answers here.

This is quite a common social dynamic, so a lot of words have been discovered to be relevant.

Frenemy is a portmanteau that exactly describes this situation.

frenemy noun - one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy [Merriam-Webster]

Personally though, I think this a rather cringey word, I'd much sooner use some of the other suggestions.

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    Frenemy being significantly different from the similarly derived and almost identical (in speech, anyway) friendemy, which is a friend that you're always arguing with and falling out with. Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 23:36
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    @SeanAllred OED: “unfriend, sb. (and a.) Etymology: ME. unfreond, -frend, = WFris. on-, ûnfrjeon, MDutch onvrient (Dutch -vriend), MLG. unvrund, MHG. unvriunt (G. unfreund). 1. One who is not a friend or on friendly terms; an enemy. In early use chiefly Sc. (sometimes in predicate without article), and in the 19th cent. app. revived by Scott. § ~1275 Lay. 5632 ― We sollen··slean houre onfrendes and wenden after Brenne. § ~1275 Lay. 17612 ― Wend to oure onfreondes and drif heom of londe. § 1425 Wyntoun Cron. viii. xxvi. 3890 ― For he doutit þe gret mycht Off his vnfreyndis, and þare slycht.”&c
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 5:36
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    @tchrist An unfriend is not nearly the same as a friendemy or a frenemy, though—it's closer to just plain enemy. Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 8:33
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    I've seen "frenemy" used more to convey people who are enemies but are comfortable enough with their relationship that they seem to exhibit some characteristics of friendship.
    – Michael
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 18:28
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    What would a "frenemy with benefits" be? People who sleep together for the purpose of passing on STDs?
    – emory
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 1:14

There’s also a wolf in sheep’s clothing, which is a person who seems friendly but in truth is hostile.


From your description, your friend is two-faced (duplicitous). He may also be more generally hypocritical.

  • 6
    I think that duplicitous is a really good word for this, albeit with some qualification.
    – Anonym
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 1:32

If the cultural reference is appropriate to you and your audience, he's a Judas (after Judas Isciarot, who betrayed Jesus to the Romans).

  • I don't know if this is coincidence or not, but I've only ever seen this in cases where money or a reward was involved.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 18:13
  • @corsiKa That might be cultural. Where I'm from "Judas" is mostly used in the general sense, without the Biblical connotation "betrayal because of money/reward". (Most people around here are not that religious anymore.)
    – Tonny
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 22:10

The general answer is traitor or backstabber, but other answers are also possible, depending on factors such as the order of when they become your friend or enemy and the severity of the treachery.

If they were an enemy from the very beginning but approached you as a friend, working for someone else all along, they’d be a spy.

If they did not see you as an enemy but merely saw you as an asset, they’d be a two-timer.

But if all else fails, you can always resort to the good old d’bag or a’hole.


Double-dealing - the practice of working to people's disadvantage behind their backs

Used as an adjective: "he is a backstabbing, double-dealing twister"


In the US, he might be called a Benedict Arnold.


While not necessarily an enemy or even a bad person, a sociopath can fit the bill when it comes to manipulation, lying, and lacking moral fiber.

If betrayal is the most important point to get across, then turncoat comes to mind, though it doesn't imply premeditation. Viper is often used to describe someone who hides their intentions and lies in wait until the ideal moment to strike.

Check out the answers to this question: Metaphors similar to "Trojan Horse", many of them seem to fit your requirements.

  • Sociopath is definitely the word that comes to mind when someone is good at manipulating people when really they have malicious intentions. Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 18:40

Or, if you want to get Shakespearian, you could call him an Iago (although that might be bit obscure for some).

In the play Othello, Iago is Othello’s trusted advisor, who is plotting to see Othello destroyed.


Someone who is a Brutus is a very good friend who gives you the screw job.
This is derived from Julius Caesar's best friend. His best friend Brutus was the last person to stab the dictator Julius Caesar's last words were "Et Tu, Brute?" which means "You too Brutus?"

Source website



While Niccolò Machiavelli has got some bad press, his name is used to describe a person who is

  • Cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous ... Oxford

  • ... characterized by expediency, deceit, and cunning. Yahoo

  • ... cunning, amoral, and opportunist ... Collins

Such a person is nobody's friend. At best they treat you as a means to an end, or an ally of convenience.


For a spy story, these are the words that came to my mind

enemy agent - typically you would use this for a known enemy.

secret agent - secret agents you just don't know about - who they work for is a secret.

double agent - this one is usually used when the agent is spying for both sides at the same time. It's most typically applied when someone has been "turned" away from the side they originally worked, and is now secretly working for the other side, while pretending everything is still normal and they are still working for you. This is a very common term in spy stories and will be easily understood by readers

turncoat - typically used for someone who visibly switches sides.

defector - typically used for someone who officially changes sides, declaring their intent in some official manner such as gaining citizenship in the enemy country.

mole - someone working inside your agency, pretending to work for you, but secretly working for the other side. Same as a double agent, but "mole" is used for more drama - there's an insidious factor about a mole, that doesn't exist with a double agent. This would be a good one - it's used a ton on American TV and I've seen it used in the British series "MI-6" as well. This one is so well known, there was a whole game show called "The Mole" where a group of people had to figure out who was secretly working against them.


Sounds like you're thinking of a

Snake in the grass

One who feigns friendship with the intent to deceive.

from The Free Dictionary


The word mouth-friend is one possible answer.

  • 5
    Try adding a source for this (dictionary) and an example usage.
    – dwjohnston
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 1:17
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    @dwjohnston The source is the dictionary considered to be the first of its kind, Dr. Johnson's "A Dictionary of the English Language".
    – biziclop
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 10:04

Here are some adjectives you may find useful:

  • Deceitful; guilty of or involving deceit; deceiving or misleading others.

  • Mendacious; not telling the truth; lying.

  • Perfidious; deceitful and untrustworthy.

  • Sly; having or showing a cunning and deceitful nature.

  • Surreptitious; kept secret, especially because it would not be approved of.

  • Treacherous; guilty of or involving betrayal or deception.

  • Duplicitous; deceitful.

  • Underhand; acting or done in a secret or dishonest way.

  • Unscrupulous; having or showing no moral principles; not honest or fair.

I understand some of these are synonyms, but you may find one you especially like.

  • None of these words mean "A person who pretends to be your friend, but is really your enemy". They could apply to such a person, but they don't mean that.... Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 10:09

Con artist or Confidence man / Link #2

Term is used in social engineering for person who excel in psychological manipulation. In general, modus operandi is - pretending to be friendly while having malicious goal(s)* Probably, the the most well known con artits is Kevin Mitnick

*just to be clear, it doesn't mean con artist is a "bad" person by default, e.g., security consultants

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