say I want something from someone and I promise to give him something in return when I actually don't have it, what's the appropriate verb to use in that case?

  • 1
    The verb for the act of making a promise, whilst having no intention of keeping it, is 'to lie'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 15:28
  • @NigelJ agree ... so answered!
    – lbf
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 18:22
  • Not all lies are about promises. Also, while debateable, many would consider a lie a known misstatement of fact. If a child promised his parents "I will get an A on my test" ... that isn't a lie. If he promised he would study for 4 hours but knew he might fall asleep after 3, I am not sure that is a lie or not. If he knew he had next to no chance of getting an a and had no intention of studying that would be a lie - but it would also be more than a lie if meant for certain purposes.
    – Tom22
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 1:46

5 Answers 5


While saying something that isn't true is to lie, in your case you are asking for something more specific.


transitive verb

4 : to cause to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid · deceiving customers about the condition of the cars · bluffing at poker in order to deceive the other players

intransitive verb

: to make someone believe something that is not true : to practice deceit; also : to give a false impression · appearances can deceive

Her parents punished her for trying to deceive them.
He was accused of deceiving the customer about the condition of the car.

Here, the lie is part of a greater deception so that you can get something you want.

  • I think that the act is 'to lie'. The effect (on others) is to deceive. One lies to them and one, thus, deceives them.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 18:53
  • @NigelJ - IMO "lie" is a broader term and to deceive is a type of lie. I think the OP can be read with a large degree of certainty to mean "lie with the intention that the other believe a promise" - not other lies like "denial" or "misdirection" or "false information" (often to deceive yet a slightly different flavor - i.e. wrong number on a form for a persons benefit - closer to 'stealing" than "tricking" ? )
    – Tom22
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 1:18

Empty promise


"A promise that is devoid of worth or meaning, one that cannot or was never intended to be carried out. John may be a sweet-talker, but in reality, he's a lowlife full of empty promises."

  • This is a noun phrase where the OP requested a verb, but good answer otherwise.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 4:03
  • The definitive answer.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 9:09

I would proffer the terms "prevarication" or more simply put, "to con", "conning"

In the act of "conning" his mark the grifter uses prevarication to convince his mark the forthcoming reward exists.

  • The thing is "con" would require an additional assumption - that there was no intent to fulfill the promise, not merely "unlikely" (athough, yes "unlikely" does show some conscious malice often) Would Elon Musk , if he had a strong idea that his promised delivery date were very optimistic, be 'conning' investors? - I suppose it would be a matter of how large a chance he though he'd have of actually meeting his promise. Even if he knew his promise were off.. 'con' might be a bit rough if he perceived the cost of failure to hit the date as small - "white lie" ? LOL eyes of the beholder
    – Tom22
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 1:25

a damned liar TFD

One that tells lies.


mislead could be another answer. Perhaps the OP is too vague.

mislead from Oxford Living Dictionaries

Cause (someone) to have a wrong idea or impression.

‘the government misled the public about the road's environmental impact’

To compare possibilities of "making a promise unlikely to be fulfilled" (title) to "something from someone" (first line of OP) the details of the situation would contribute to which word would be fair to apply.

Example: Let's say Elon Musk promised a delivery date to customers and investors that was ... say ... very optimistic.

How much doubt he had might be the difference whether this promise were a 'lie' or not and how badly he thought he might be off and how much he thought it would ultimately hurt the other (would he never meet the promise or just miss the date) might determine the difference between a con, being misleading, deceiving or other answers given here.

Some might even step shorter and use a word closer to "sugar coated" or "promised the moon" or something that leaves some doubt while still suggesting some level of misleading.

The exact same act might fit ALL of the words, but Different choices from different perspectives of the facts.

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