When a character or group of characters is by nature unable to tell any untruths, whether they be magical beings who are bound
by that magic
, speakers of a language that makes it impossible
, or simply unable to grasp the concept of lying, that character Cannot Tell a Lie.
How restrictive this inability to lie is varies from character to character. For some, they are unable to deceive, following the letter of the law as well as its underlying meaning. For others, they are able to tell half-truths
and omit important information
, allowing for False Reassurance
or even Malicious Slander
and acting as a sort of Technical Pacifist Consummate Liar
Children are prone to it, being too innocent
to think of suppressing the truth — many truths have been blurted out by unwitting children — but this cannot be relied on; most children outgrow it (although some of them retain the tendency and grow up to be bad liars
Some characters are very bad liars
or broadcast some obvious signal
when they lie. Those are not examples of this trope, although the results are effectively identical (the character can
utter a lie, but can't fool anyone).
Characters that are temporarily forced to tell the truth, but otherwise can lie are under the effects of Truth Serums
. Characters who are capable of lying, but choose not to Will Not Tell a Lie
. If they're sworn to keep a secret, they will very quickly discover Keeping Secrets Sucks
It should be noted that this trope is for characters who Cannot Tell A Lie as a character trait, which means that at all times they are incapable of lying. If the character is under the effect of a Truth Serum
, it doesn't count. However, if said Truth Serum
had a permanent effect, especially if it were applied before the main narrative, then that example is valid. Bad writers will use From a Certain Point of View
to get away with "misunderstandings."
Note that under the constitutional laws governing the freedom of speech for most industrialized countries, you must be allowed to lie at any time
. Including when doing so would break the law. Legally, a character who cannot tell a lie cannot in a real world setting go on any record as saying anything; their word must be held inadmissible in any court of law.
is George Washington from his famous story about a cherry tree, who oddly is a better example of Will Not Tell a Lie
. Ironically this is clearly a lie
as said by Cracked
See also Knights and Knaves
, Language Of Truth
. Not to be confused with Bad Liar
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Anime & Manga
- Belldandy and other Goddesses First Class from Ah! My Goddess are absolutely incapable of telling lies. They're still able to simply say nothing when it's necessary to conceal information, but of course this can be quite revealing in its own right. After passing the Goddess First Class test, Urd declines the promotion (which would have allowed her full access to her immense power, far greater than even Belldandy's) and remains Second Class because she deems the ability to lie more useful than brute strength in protecting her family.
- Much of Death Note seems to rely on the idea that one of the rules for the death gods forbids them from lying to the people that hold their books. They are not, however, required to tell the user everything. Ryuk makes a living out of leaving out that last bit of information.
- Duo Maxwell from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.
- In Princess Tutu, Mytho doesn't understand much because of losing his emotions, including not understanding the concept of lying... at least, until he begins to regain his emotions. The first time in the series he does tell a lie, Fakir reacts in shock.
- Variation: immortals from Baccano!! are incapable of using aliases in the presence of other immortals, instinctively blurting out their real names if they try.
- In the Harukanaru Toki no Naka de - Hachiyou Shou anime, after Ran loses her memories, the main characters decide that it will be better if she doesn't remember anything about her connections with the Oni Clan. Yasuaki, for certain reasons, fails to understand why they don't tell her everything, to the point of asking directly why they are lying. When he eventually does tell her the truth in order to figure out how the Oni Clan's curse works, all sorts of troubles proceed to happen.
- The manga explores this even further. Yasuaki, who insists that he has no heart or emotions, wonders at one point why people tell lies, implying that, indeed, he doesn't understand the concept of lying (yet). When Kotengu gets killed, however, Yasuaki ends up lying to Akane that he is still alive just to make her stop crying. This event confuses him a lot, as he apparently believes that, not being human, he wasn't supposed to be able to lie.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Kyubey cannot technically lie, as he comes from a purely rational alien species. This does not, however, prevent him from invoking his Exact Words and You Didn't Ask.
- He also did not deem it necessary to tell them everything, becoming genuinely confused when all the girls got angry at him for "hiding the truth". Kyubey did intently hide some information to keep things in his favor though...
- Trueman from Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, sort of. He claims this is the case, which is how he got his name (he named himself, actually), but he does tend to use deceit and dishonesty many times in non-verbal ways, using illusion to prey on victims.
- From Magi – Labyrinth of Magic, a person's rukh cannot lie. They will tell you exactly how they feel about you, and even if they shut up you'll hear their thoughts.
- The former trope image, which depicts a scene from the English Civil War, invokes this (though hopefully not playing it straight). A Royalist household (mother with her two daughters and her son) is questioned by Parlamentarian soldiers about the patriarch's whereabouts. The moment presented is the one where the young son of the family is asked "When did you last see your father?" (hence the title). It is in fact never revealed whether he did the most sensible thing (to lie and to save his father's life) or actually Cannot Tell A Lie and, being the very incarnation of innocence (he even is Colour-Coded for Your Convenience), tell the truth and blow his father's cover. In the background, his two older two sisters and his mother can be seen anxiously sobbing, making this a Tear Jerker moment.
- Piffany from Nodwick is apparently so naturally pure that she feels constrained to blurt out the truth even when it would be dangerous.
- The Riddler, Depending on the Writer. A bit of belated backstory says that his father beat him for winning a contest, wrongly thinking he cheated. As a result, Ngyma has an outright compulsion to tell the truth, as expressed through his riddles. In one story he tries not to leave clues, but cannot stop himself, and when Batman catches him Riddler says he needs to go to Arkham because there's something wrong with him.
- In Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, it's mentioned by the narrator that the Night Things are incapable of lying. Because of this, it tends to not occur to them that non- Night Things can lie to them.
- An interesting case with X-23. Laura is very well-known for her Brutal Honesty and being Innocently Insensitive. Because she was created as a Living Weapon covert operative and assassin, she certainly has the capability to lie in order to maintain her cover on missions, but outside of this context she consistently shows an inability to do so. It's a major bit of Character Development in her solo series when she lies to the child of one of her victims to spare him the pain of revisiting the loss of his parents.
- Loki: Agent of Asgard hits Loki of all people with this. After the inversion is undone he just can't take falsehoods any more, not even benign ones or jokes. He is not literally unable to tell them but all come out incredibly weak and he feels so bad about them that he corrects himself immediately. He theorizes that this is either an after effect of the inversion, or being in the middle of the truth wave, or maybe he is just sick and tired of untruths or some combination of these. This prompts him to be suicidally honest with Verity and Thor.
- Achakura in Kyon Big Damn Hero, as Nagato programmed her. She even complains she can't lie about her weakness.
- In And the Truth Shall Set You Free Harry, due to accidentally swallowing a bottle of Veritaserum as a baby, was utterly unable to lie. An escaped Bellatrix Lestrange, of all people, taught him how to give Mathematician's Answers and half-truths before he started Hogwarts.
- In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, robots generally can't lie, except for ones with advanced programming, like ProtoMan. As of episode 7 this also includes Guts Man, Cut Man, and Magnet Man.
- Discord in Romance and the Fate of Equestria is trapped in this state. Mostly it leads to a lot of needless rambling and Did I Say That Out Loud moments. Being Discord, he's good at invoking Exact Words.
- The main character of The Twilight Child is this mixed with Will Not Tell a Lie. She's near-incapable of lying in any form, and should she actually attempt it she'll either immediately backspace or her vocal cords just shut down on her. It also thwarts her Stepford Smiler tendencies as well.
- In Sight, Zanpakutou spirits can't lie due to being the manifestation of their wielder's soul. As a result, it's easy for Ichigo to tell when their wielder is lying because the zanpakutou will look extremely guilty for the lie.
Films — Live-Action
- The Thermians from Galaxy Quest cannot grasp the concept of lying (or fiction) — at least at first. Big Bad Sarris painfully forces them to learn about deception.
- The main character of Liar Liar was made to be unable to tell a lie for one day, to the point where he couldn't speak one, write one, or even ask a question that he knew would be responded to with a lie. Furthermore, he couldn't even conceal the truth by not speaking or telling half-truths, which led to most of the film's humor, especially as the "no lying" thing interfered substantially with his occupation as an Amoral Attorney.
- Liar Liar is a partial remake of the 1941 Bob Hope comedy Nothing But the Truth, which by contrast has a Will Not Tell a Lie plot: Hope's character bets $10,000 (a huge sum in those days) that he can go 24 hours without fibbing.
- Inspired by Liar Liar, Brazilian movie O Candidato Honesto ("The Honest Candidate") has a Sleazy Politician running for president being forced to tell the truth (along with other enforced honesty, such as refusing bribes) due to a dying wish.
- Sally in Practical Magic finds herself mystically incapable of lying to the detective who has come to investigate the disappearance of Jimmy, whom Sally and her sister had accidentally killed. She avoids confessing by giving a series of clever truthful-but-misleading answers.
- The Invention of Lying takes place in a world where no one can lie, except for Ricky Gervais's character. Despite no one being able to lie, it's actually not a very nice place - there is no religion, no fiction, and because people are brutally honest (or at least incapable of blurting out inconvenient truths) everyone is cruel, crass or prone to over-sharing.
- In the first Superman movie, Supes tells Lois he never lies. Not once.
- Mephistopheles from Ghost Rider claims so.
- Jackson Rippner in Red Eye never lies. This has led to some fans theorizing that his joke about killing his parents was actually true.
- The titular character in I Am Sam is mentally challenged and doesn't understand the concept of lying which causes problems with his lawyer who wants him to "tweak" the truth a little in court.
- In a technical sense, Nagato was lying to ‘’Haruhi’’; she was lying to Kyon so she wouldn’t know the truth. When Haruhi’s out of the picture, Nagato comes clean to Kyon.
- In Jannie Lee Simner's Faerie Winter the human children who have faerie powers seem incapable of lying. Faeries themselves also seem unable to lie, but, they are very good at bending the truth.
- Practitioners of magic and Others in Pact can technically lie, but temporarily lose a hefty amount of their power for doing so. This results in quite a few Literal Genie people.
- It was a side effect of the duplication in Emily The Strange Stranger And Stranger.
- Drogyn on Angel could not tell a lie. Therefore, he always got upset when people asked him questions. Joss Whedon said that he had Drogyn not be able to lie so that when he said Fred cannot be brought back, the characters would have to believe him. This comes in useful for Angel's later Batman Gambit where he has his team believe all sorts of lies he has planted like his involvement in Fred's death. Drogyn goes to the characters with information of Angel's betrayal, and they must believe him.
- Star Trek:
- It's said that Vulcans cannot lie, which fans used to attack the morally ambiguous Vulcans in Star Trek: Enterprise. This ignores the fact that the first time we hear this said is in the original series episode "The Enterprise Incident", where Spock lies his ears off to the Romulan commander. It's put more realistically in the ENT episode "Shadows of P'Jem" that Vulcans have "a reputation for honesty".
- It's more that Spock implies his ears off, really...Likewise, Vulcans in general (including Spock) are masters Loophole Abuse and Suspiciously Specific Denial. In Star Trek II The Wrathof Khan, Spock invokes Starfleet regulations about not transmitting uncoded messages on an open channel during a combat situation to explain his use of "exaggeration" in a communication with Kirk that Kahn was most certainly listening in on.
- In an Expanded Universe novel, it's explained that Vulcans always tell the truth, unless it is more logical to lie. Who decides when it's logical...?
- In her awesome expanded universe novel The Romulan Way, Diane Duane suggests that a more accurate translation of Vulcan "logic" is "reality-truth" which, like a lot of the things Duane wrote, makes a bit more sense than the official line. Vulcans seem to have a very high estimation of truth and a distaste for untruth, but are willing to play fast and loose with the definition of a lie by proceeding according to the letter of what was said but not the spirit. They'll lie if they think it's really necessary.
- According to Spock, "Vulcans never bluff."
- And according to Data, "Androids do not lie." That one's more likely, since lying is one of those organic behaviors Data is not quite up to speed on.
- His Evil Twin Lore doesn't seem to have a problem with lying. Data was designed to correct Lore's (many) shortcomings, lying being among the least of them. The worst being that Lore is a murderous sociopath.
- The sitcom Roseanne had one episode when one of Jackie's friends tells her to lie to Roseanne:
Jackie: I can't lie to her.
Friend: Sure you can.
Jackie: No, seriously, I can't.
Roseanne: (from the back of the restaurant) Jackie, could you come over here for a minute?
Jackie: I'm busy.
Roseanne: No, you're not!
Jackie: You see?
- A Bewitched episode has Endora casting a spell on Darrin that renders him incapable of telling anything but the exact truth...which proves problematic for the guy, since he's in advertising and all.
- On Red Dwarf, Kryten the android starts out like this, but with a lot of coaching and practice, he gets better. Or worse. Whatever.
- Maura Isles from Rizzoli & Isles physically cannot tell a lie.
Jane: I thought you said you couldn't lie!
Maura: What do you mean? I can't!
Jane: You did.
Maura: Only one time, when I said I'd finished my homework and I hadn't, and I immediately went vasovagal. [clarifies] Fainted.
- Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory has great difficulty with lying and must either admit when he's told falsehoods to others or engage in an elaborate covering-up of them.
- In one episode of Hustle, Ash suffers a head injury resulting in this condition temporarily, right before he's about to close a "deal" with The Mark. The mark proceeds to ask a direct question, whether there's any reason at all he shouldn't give Ash 500k. He can't tell a lie, but he can tell the truth sarcastically.
- In series 6 of Doctor Who, it's revealed that the Silence want to kill the Doctor because sometime in the future, "on fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature may speak falsely or fail to give answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never, ever be answered." The question? Doctor who?
- Gary Bell on Alphas, as a result of having High Functioning Autism and poor social skills. He's been working on it, though.
Gary: I do lie, I've been practicing. It's a social skill. Like the other day when I said I was gonna have a pudding pop, I was lying 'cause I don't like pudding pops. ... That was a lie, I do like pudding pops. I just knew we didn't have any.
- One of the Whammys on Press Your Luck is George Washington:
I cannot tell a lie. You lose!
- The narrator of "A tongue that cannot lie" by Karine Polwart.
- Sir Mix-a-Lot cannot lie (nor can other brothers deny) when it comes to his love of a large posterior.
- Invoked by Arlo Guthrie in "Alices Restaurant", when asked if he knows how a huge mound of garbage including an envelope with his name on it ended up somewhere it shouldn't.
- In the song "The Criminal Cried" from Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado, after Ko-ko begins giving the townspeople's account of the execution (which did not actually take place) the chorus sings, "We know him well/ he cannot tell/ untrue or groundless tales—/ he always tries/ to utter lies/ and every time he fails."
Myths & Religion
- Cassandra was cursed to tell true prophecies which nobody would ever believe, and was driven mad by it.
- Depending on the version, The Fair Folk can't lie.
- Thomas the Rhymer, a.k.a. "True Thomas", is said to have had this trope imposed upon him by a Faerie Queen in the late 13th century.
- The author of Hebrews in The Bible states that it is impossible for God to lie. That doesn't mean that God cannot deceive people (He's God, after all, nothing is beyond His power), it's just that He sees it as against his nature.
- An episode of X Minus One featured a reptilian "lawyer" whose race is incapable of lying (although they don't have to say the entire truth either). This is put to the test when a Jerkass character tries to get under another character's skin by mocking his home planet, who the latter keeps saying is the most beautiful place in the galaxy. The Jerkass gets the reptilian to admit the other character's planet has been ravaged by an asteroid shower and is hardly the paradise he thought it was, but to his shock the reptilian wholeheartedly agrees that the planet is the best place there is because the planet is named after the reptilian's word for "home".
- In Dungeons & Dragons some spells that enforce truth. If this troper recalls correctly, the "Zone of Truth" spell prevents anyone in the target area from lying while the spell lasts, but it does not compel people to answer questions.
- Forgotten Realms NPC Malik el Sami yn Nasser suffers from truth-spell cast by goddess of magic personally, so it looks like he's not going to recover any time soon. By the way, he was given a title "Seraph of Lies" soon after that incident.
- In some versions of the game, paladins (and occasionally other characters) cannot tell a lie. They aren't literally forced to tell the truth, but risk losing their powers if they do so.
- An optional Disadvantage in GURPS is "Cannot Lie": any character with this trait is unable to lie, and if they try, they will either "blurt out the truth or stumble so much that the lie is obvious." It does not prevent them from stealing or other unlawful acts (honesty is a separate disadvantage).
- While Seraphs from In Nomine can lie, doing so is very bad for them, and can easily and very quickly lead to them ceasing to be Angels, or at least being loaded down with Discords (the game's version of disadvantages).
- Inverted with the Pooka from Changeling The Dreaming; their Frailty is that they can never tell the whole truth. Some players tend to find the perfect mixture of truth and lies, but more than a few tend to rely on, "There is not a large army of chimera charging down Main Street!"
- /Werewolf: The Forsaken gives us the Fire-Touched tribe of werewolves. They follow Rabid Wolf, whose Ban is that he may not let a false statement lie. Not only does this bar the Fire-Touched from lying, they actually have to challenge any statement they hear that they know is a lie, no matter the consequences.
- The Ebon Dragon from Exalted is a partial inversion; as the cosmic incarnation of bastardry, he can't tell the truth... unless said truth would horribly fuck with whoever hears it.
- In Jay's Journey, the character of Puff (and other dragons like him) can't lie, but he can definitely omit information. When asked by a villain if he's seen Jay, he manages to twist the conversation into making it seem as though he has no idea who Jay is, all without lying. Specifically, he points out that he's traveling with a complete moron, which is true, while failing to point out that he's traveling with about a dozen other humans.
- Knights of the Old Republic II implies that the droids of Star Wars can't lie. It does this by way of a side-quest which involves stealing a Czerka Corporation droid, programming it so it can lie, and sending it back. It ends about as well as expected.
- 343 Guilty spark from Halo might fall into this trope, or he might fall into Will Not Tell a Lie, depending on whether you believe he's gone rampant, or if he's just always been that way. Either way, nothing he ever says is untrue. He will withhold inconvenient facts if nobody asks about them, however.
- The Advisors (the angelic and demonic characters that float around the screen) in Black & White are honour-bound to always provide you with truthful information, though both are free to follow their own agenda (getting you to perform good or bad deeds, respectively). It's all there in the manual.
- Oni from Touhou are said to be incapable of lying, and may be able to instinctively detect when they are being lied to.
Always honoring their promises, they can think of no other way to behave than to be fair and square.
There are no youkai who are more honest than the oni.
Perfect Memento in Strict Sense, Hieda no Akyu
- One of Reimu's Informed Abilities is that she does not lie and will most likely respond to any question honestly.
- Angels in Might and Magic: Heroes VI are incapable of lying, but are capable of deception by choosing not to tell all of the truth.
- Vashiel from Misfile has had his ability to lie removed entirely, as part of a punishment for past transgressions (it's implied he got a little too into smiting the wicked). His resulting unfortunate honesty when asked "Does This Make Me Look Fat??" led to what he described as "the most painful day ever". He later says it's not absolute: if it were a situation of universal security, he would be able to lie in order to uphold it. But of course, such a situation is incredibly rare.
- Abraham the wizard from El Goonish Shive is sworn to an Oath of Truth. Interestingly, he deliberately avoids people so he won't have to reveal information he doesn't want to.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: In Chapter 12, robots cannot lie. That is how the robot can tell Antimony is a robot: she says so.
- And this is despite the fact that robots are actually seen lying in the comic, though their lies are almost always ridiculously transparent.
- Reynardine cannot lie when talking with Antimony, who, in a Moment of Weakness, exploits this to force him to confront an Awful Truth she has angrily revealed to him. He turns the tables on her with another Awful Truth in response.
- Quantum Cop of Casey and Andy can't lie - although he eventually gains the ability in the final arc as Character Development.
- Tower of God: Kang Horyang's icon makes it impossible for him to lie, deceive and withhold the truth. Not that he needs to do any of that.
- SCP Foundation: Victims of SCP-1082 are not only unable (and unwilling) to lie — they won't even use euphemisms or non-literal language, and write and speak overly verbosely so as to leave absolutely no room for misunderstanding whatsoever.
- Cedar Wood from Ever After High cannot tell a lie outright.
- The Polymorphic Clone replacing William in Season 4 of Code Lyoko was never programmed to lie. He'd respond truthfully to any question asked by anybody, including about his true nature — although being quite stupid and literal-minded, it's probable he'd misinterpret the question. (And while he's aware another William exists, he still responds to William's name, which can get confusing.) This has caused serious troubles for Team Lyoko on a few occasions (like in episodes "A Lack of Goodwill" and "Down to Earth"). This may look like a big oversight coming from Jérémie, but he has hardly mastered the programming of artificial intelligences yet... and the only code at his disposal that could improve the Clone was the one used by Franz Hopper to create XANA, hence a way-too-big risk to take.
- on top of his own inexperience AI programing is portrayed as an extremely difficult and imprecise field with unpredictable result ranging from idiot William and player Jeremy copies to the raging psychopath that is xana the original in universe AI
- Franklyn from Viva Piñata cannot lie or keep secrets at all, this is played as a running gag in many episodes
- Dr. Wily thinks that robots Cannot Tell A Lie in the animated Mega Man series. Rock proves him wrong.
- The Powerpuff Girls episode "Lying Around The House" has a little figure that grows every time the girls tell a lie. To get rid of it, they must tell the truth about their transgressions, which they eventually do. First done as issue #21 of the comic, "Big Fish Story."
- An Al Brodax Popeye cartoon had Wimpy using vanishing cream to make himself disappear so he can escape Brutus' wrath. Popeye joins in on the trick, so when Brutus approaches him:
Brutus: (angrily) Popeye, have you seen that moocher Wimpy?
Popeye: Brutus, ya knows I never tells a lie. Nope. I hasn't seen him today.
- Mrs. Thompson from Codename: Kids Next Door. Being unable to lie was a downside of the curse that made her the Were-Dog Queen.
- George Washington was said to have remarked, "I cannot tell a lie", and admitting to chopping down his father's cherry tree. However, this is a myth. Even if it were true, it would be a matter of choice rather then inability (i.e. Will Not Tell a Lie rather than Cannot Tell A Lie).
- In a Paperinik New Adventures short they have fun with this story. It ends up with a time traveler coming back in time to prevent little George from chopping down the tree (so that his son's teacher won't have an example to quote when she'd say truth is to be rewarded), only to find out that he landed on the tree and little George decided it was easier to 'confess' that he, George, chopped it down rather than trying to explain the truth.
- The Austrian satirist Roda Roda (1872-1945, born Sándor Friedrich Rosenfeld) parodied this in a story "from an American school primer": Young Abraham Lincoln and a playmate together chop down a cherry tree belonging to Lincoln's father. When the father asks them about it, the playmate fingers young Abe, who says: "I cannot tell a lie, father, I did it." - "That is exemplary behaviour, son, I see that you will become President one day." Turning to the other boy the father added: "You, however, who would not admit..." - "Save your breath, Mr. Lincoln, I'm James Buchanan, US President from 1857 to 1861."
- The famous SOE agent Noor Inayat Khan was taught by her Sufi cleric father never to tell a lie. Needless to say, some of her instructors thought this would cause fatal problems for someone being dropped into Nazi-occupied France as a wireless operator. She appears to have adapted though; Hans Kieffer (head of the Gestapo in Paris) testified after the war that you couldn't believe a word she said under interrogation.
- Many people with autism, Asperger Syndrome, or the like have a hard time lying to others. Aspergers can impair the capability to think in 'abstract' concepts, and the ability to put oneself in another's shoes, so the concept of deception (which requires the use of abstract thought and imagining what others think to effectively construct a believable lie) is often difficult for someone with Asperger's syndrome to grasp. It varies on a case-by-case basis; people with mild autism/Aspergers can often lie easily, while those with a more severe version often have to enact significant mental preparations before being able to lie, for making things up on the spot is much harder for them.
- There is a myth that undercover cops, when asked by others if they are a cop, are legally required to tell the truth. This is false hoever, as many sting operations would be ruined if the cop was forced to tell the truth about his real job (any criminal could ask "are you a cop?" to every person they deal with, and shoot anyone who says yes), or if the courts were forced to throw evidence out anytime the criminals were able to prove that they asked if the cop was a real cop, and he lied about it.
- This myth comes about as a misinterpretation of "entrapment" lawsnote , and/or a misinterpretation of the requirement of a police officer to "read rights" when actually making an arrest (see: Miranda Rights and You Do Not Have to Say Anything).