Reading a text about liars and their behaviour, I encountered the following sentences:

It is hard to prove there was a harsh tone or angry expression. The accuser can be put on the defensive. "You have heard it that way. There was no anger in my voice".

I failed to find what "put on" could be in this context. The only meaning that would make a little sense would be "to pretend". Also, I think it is a passive voice; but I may be wrong, put has the same form for present, past and past participle.

I think it could mean: The liar can try or pretend) to be defensive to the accuser.

And I have an additional question: As mentioned in the text, "You heard it that way". Is this more like "You heard it with your own ears, there was no anger" or "It is just you who heard it THAT way, there was no anger"?

  • (i) idioms.thefreedictionary.com/on+the+defensive (ii) I would probably phrase the last part like "You just heard it that way," meaning roughly, "You misinterpreted the tone of my voice." – Cameron Sep 4 '12 at 8:01
  • (i) Hm but that does not make a sense. The accuser is the one who blames the liar, but the liar defends himself. – PoTros Sep 4 '12 at 8:08
  • The accuser became defensive or was made to feel the need to defend himself. Put here means put or placed in a situation or position, and this position is one of defense. Maybe look up on the defensive instead of put on. The accused responds by saying, "you misheard or misinterpreted my tone," implying the accuser is the one in error or wrong. I hope that helps. EDIT: I see now that Cameron stated these things as well. – Mike Sep 4 '12 at 11:04

In this instance the meaning would be:

The accuser can be made to feel like they need to defend themselves.

Which may be an unexpected scenario that they hadn't prepared for.


Instead of thinking of "put on" as some kind of phrasal verb:

The accusser can be put on / the defensive.

You should divide the meaning chunks this way:

The accuser can be put / on the defensive.

Or, for the sake of making it clearer, you can indeed get rid of the passive structure first:

Somebody can put the accuser on the defensive. 

As you can see, now the pattern in the sentence is:

put somebody on the defensive

From the Free Dictionary, this is the meaning of the phrase:

on the defensive in an attitude or position of defence, as in being ready to reject criticism

As for your second question, the sentence "You have heard it that way" means your second interpretation i.e. It is just you who heard it that way, there was no anger.


Put on the defensive - placed on the defensive.


From the OP (Original Poster)

The accusser (sic) can be put on the defensive. (There was a spelling mistake in the original question.)


The best means of defence is attack.

The accuser can be placed on the defensive.

The accuser can be forced to defend themselves.


From the OP (Original Poster)

And additional question: As mentioned in the text, "You heard it that way". Is it more like "You heard it with your own ears, there was no anger" or like "It is just you who heard it THAT way, there was no anger."

Are you imagining things?

"Put on the mask", take on the role, pretend to be the aggrieved person.

"Put on" is an interesting expression. When I first saw the question the first thing that occurred to me was 'put on the style'.

I think that you are right in saying that 'put on' means 'pretend'. It does not necessarily mean that someone is lying;'Put on a mask'.

Margaret Thatcher's son had an expression that he used a lot; 'Put up or Shut up'.

Main Entry: put on  [n. poot-on, -awn; adj. poot-on, -awn] ..

Part of Speech: verb..

Definition: pretend..

Synonyms: act, affect, assume, bluff, confound, confuse, counterfeit, deceive, don, fake, feign, make believe, masquerade, playact, pose, pull, put on a front, put on an act, sham, simulate, strike, take on, trick

Antonyms: be truthful..


"Put on your glad rags".


It is a little unfair to use an expression like 'glad rags' which is very rarely used.

  • "Glad rags" is an old expression (at least 1896 says Merriam-Webster), and was in the second stanza of Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley back in the 1950s. See link "Put your glads rags on and join me, hon, We'll have some fun when the clock strikes one". Many stores in the UK and US use "Glad Rags" in their name. Check out Google. – user21497 Sep 4 '12 at 9:30
  • My Auntie Gladys used to give men the 'Glad eye'. – Robin Michael Sep 4 '12 at 9:42
  • Then she must have been a seductress, according to the dictionary. – user21497 Sep 4 '12 at 9:46
  • This is an incorrect answer in this context. put on is not related to pretending here. – Matt E. Эллен Sep 4 '12 at 11:00
  • @ Matt I have corrected my answer in the light of your comments. – Robin Michael Sep 4 '12 at 11:24

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