In many English literature the phrase-part "to tell you the truth" shows up. But in contrast to the literal meaning, this doesn't mean the characters were first lying about this.

In Dutch these are the following meanings for the Dutch counterpart ("Om de waarheid te zeggen,..."/"De waarheid is dat...")

  • The person was first lying; and
  • The truth is quite inconvenient (thus some kind of warning that you won't like the following part of the sentence).

In some English literature however, characters simply make statements that aren't at all inconvenient (or they weren't lying in the first place).

What is thus the semantical meaning of "To tell you the truth,".

2 Answers 2


To tell you the truth is a mild warning of sorts. It can signify a number of things. (It is also often stated as, "to tell the truth".

You might be disappointed by what you hear: not being supported, not being complimented, not getting an answer, etc. It means I have to admit...

  • To tell you the truth, I can't make up my mind about those shoes.
  • To tell you the truth, I don't give a damn.
  • To tell you the truth, I've never liked Fitzgerald as much as you do.

It can also mean someone is going to tell you something they've been too inhibited to tell you before:

  • To tell you the truth, I only pretended to understand Ulysses so you would think I was smart.
  • To tell you the truth, I'm glad you figured it out, because I have been dying to tell you.
  • To tell you the truth, I myself don't always show up exactly on time...

It can be said to impart more emphasis or an air of authority to something about to be said which is really only opinion:

  • To tell you the truth, when it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail.
  • To tell you the truth, they're just a bunch of pretenders.

Or to actually introduce the truth in a more dramatic or diplomatic manner:

  • To tell you the truth, I don't think this is a brains kind of operation.
  • To tell you the truth, I don't know what I was going to say.

I have to admit or To be frank See Phrases 3.

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