Hello teachers

Do you feel any difference between "He lied" and "He told a lie"?

I ask this because I saw an opinion in an online forum by English learners that native speakers rarely use "tell a lie" in everyday speech on the reason that the noun "lie" connotes something criminal or morally/religiously sinful. According to the opinion, the simple verb "lie" is somehow weaker than "tell a lie" in the notion of blame or reproach. Is it true?

Hi Paco,
Yes, I'd say there is a difference. Here are some very brief thoughts.
tell a lie

Makes the lie seem more child-like, more innocent - we say that a child tells a lie.
Seems less morally wrong, more minor.
Separates the person from the 'words'. It does sound a bit religious in tone. Perhaps the separation of person from words offers the implicit hope of forgiveness of sin?

Yes, I think we use the phrase less often


Is not weaker, it sounds worse, more serious. To say a child 'lies' is more serious.
It suggests more of a habit.

We'd be more likely to say a politician 'lied' . It sounds serious
We'd be less likely to say a politician 'told a lie'.

Others may have other opinions?
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Hello Clive

Thank you for the quick reply.

I'm a little surprised to hear that "somebody tells a lie" sounds less morally wrong than "somebody lies".

Anyway I like to hear additional opinions from other people.

I agree with Clive - saying "he told a lie" sounds like there might be extenuating circumstances -- "he told a lie, but it was to avoid embarrassing someone" while "he lied" doesn't leave much room for explanations. "He lied" also has more of a suggestion of a habitual action, rather than a specific circumstance.

(Are you familiar with the expression "a little white lie"? That means a harmless lie that is told for a good cause - for instance, to avoid hurting someone's feelings.)

I agree with that assessment.
It pretty much sums up the difference.

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Hello Clive, Khoff, and CJ

Thank you for the replies. Now I understand what that poster said in the Japanese forum was completely opposite to correct usages. Your answers are really precious, because no dictionary gives us this kind of detailed usage explanation.