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Lier or Liar? Spelling Differences, Explained

Some of the hardest words to spell in English are sometimes be the shortest. Today’s example illustrates this with the 4-letter dilemma: Should you write “lier or liar?” The answer may make you gasp.

First, some background about my credentials for writing this article. My name is Lillie, and I’ve been an English teacher for 19 years. I’m also an artist, so I hand-illustrate all of the lessons I explain here — like “How to Spell Attendance” and the highly confusing one, “Everytime or Every Time?” Now let’s dive into today’s tutorial…

Lier or liar
Lier or liar — what’s the difference?

Lier or Liar?

Though both “lier” and “liar” are technically real words (unlike misspelled “fake words” like “greatful” or “seperate“), one of those words is basically NEVER used, and the other is the correct one you’re almost certainly looking for. But which is which?

Spell Liar

If you are looking for how to write the word for someone who tells lies and fibs — a person who doesn’t give the truth — the correct spelling is: “liar.” Huh? This is truly confusing, because “lie” has an “e” after the “i,” but you spell “liar” with an “a” after the “i!”

What the heck?! It’s not logical at all. So if a person who is lying and saying mistruths and falsehoods is definitely called a “liar,” what is a “lier?”

Using liar vs. lier in a sentence.
Using liar vs. lier in a sentence.

Lier Definition

The word “lier” is almost NEVER used — however, it is indeed a real word. The definition of “lier” is: a person who is lying down (ex: horizontally flat on a bed), or a person lying in wait, as with someone trying to ambush others.

Now, in my 41 years of living, I have never once heard or read someone use this word… but the Merriam-Webster Dictionary asserts that it really exists, so I suppose it does. I’m not sure I’d recommend using it, though — it will elicit some strange looks!

Lyer, Lyre, Lair

What about other words that sort of sound or look like liar and lier? First, there’s “lyer” — this word doesn’t exist, and is just a misspelling of liar.

Next, there’s lyre, which is a homophone of liar (it sounds the same but means something different). A “lyre” is an instrument that looks like a small U-shaped harp — totally different from a liar!

Finally, there is lair: one of the most commonly confused words with liar because the “a” and “i” are just reversed. “Lair” is pronounced differently from “liar” — “lehr” vs. “LAI-er” — and a lair is defined as a ferocious animal’s home, or the hiding place of thieves.

VIDEO: Liar vs. Lier

See the time-lapse video of my drawings for this lesson.

Lier or Liar, in Sum

There you have the “lier or liar” solution: While “lier” and “liar” are both real words, the odds are 99.999999% that you’re looking to spell “liar” with an “a” — defined as a person who lies and doesn’t tell the truth. The correct spelling of the common childhood chant is: “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” I hope this helps.

What other commonly misspelled words would you like me to explain and illustrate? Do share!