I want a word or an expression which means not standing by or sticking with one's promise, in the context of this expression:

First he promised me something but later he refused it; he should try to stand by his word.

5 Answers 5


As Wendi and Matt have indicated, break is probably the most common word to use when describing an unkept promise. If you wanted an alternative, though, you might consider renege:

Macmillan defines this verb as:

to decide not to do something that you promised to do

American Heritage uses the definition:

to fail to carry out a promise or commitment

Here are a few examples of the word being used in contemporary news stories:

The stakeholders, who were in a one-day stakeholders workshop, said if the government and district assembly do not take up construction of roads in the area particularly commercial roads as a priority, they would renege in fulfilling their task obligation to the state.

It’s all about investing in jobs — and by the way, if that company decided to renege on its promises, it would have to return a portion of the state money.

They paid it with the promise that the subsidies would help them recoup that money. Now Pence wants to renege on that deal. It isn’t fair, and it shouldn’t happen.

It's pronounced /rɪˈnɛɡ/ or /rɪˈnɪɡ/ in American English, with a ‘short’ vowel in the stressed syllable; in British English it appears to be pronounced with a ‘long’ vowel, /rɪˈneɪg/ or /rɪˈniːɡ/. (Pronunciation information courtesy of StoneyB).


I believe the expression you're looking for is "broke his word / broke his promise". In keeping with your example sentence:

First he promised me something but later on he refused; he broke his word.


First he promised me something but later on he refused; he broke his promise to me.

  • Wendi, what does it serve "on" just after "later" there?
    – user114
    Feb 11, 2013 at 22:21
  • 1
    @Carlo_R. "Later on" has similar meaning to "afterward". In this case, at point A in the past, he promised me something. After that, or "later on", at point B in the past, he refused to keep his promise. Now it is the present, point C, and I am talking about it. Does that make sense?
    – WendiKidd
    Feb 11, 2013 at 22:26
  • 1
    @Carlo_R: Using later on like that implies greater "continuity" between two events. Thus in WendiKidd's example, there might be a (very slight) tendency to include on if you suspected he might have known he was going to break his word later, at the time of making the promise. It's a very fine distinction not often consciously made, but you might like to think of later on as meaning subsequently, within the context of the events being related here, rather than simply at a later time. Feb 11, 2013 at 22:52
  • @WendiKidd,FumbleFingers thank you for the kindness and the competence shown in your comments.
    – user114
    Feb 11, 2013 at 23:03
  • @FumbleFingers To be honest I was just copying the sentence directly from the question, which I see has now been altered! ;) Interesting point though--I hadn't thought of that! I'd edit to match the revised question but then this comment string wouldn't make sense, so I'll leave it as it is.
    – WendiKidd
    Feb 11, 2013 at 23:10

When you say that one has "stood by their word", you've implied that they've fulfilled a specific obligation or promise they made by virtue of their character. However, to say that one "stands by their word" it means that, in general, they can be relied upon to fulfill promises when they're made.

Others have addressed the negation of the first case, that is that one "breaks their word" or "breaks promises". However, if one cannot be relied upon and makes promises that they may or may not fulfill, you can say that they "waffle" or "vacillate", or that they're "wafflers". These words are commonly used to describe politicians who make hollow promises to win the favor of supporters.

A "waffler" may or may not fulfill promises they've made. Their making such a promise doesn't indicate any incremental degree of faith that they will follow up with action.


The most common expression in my experience is to "keep" (meaning to stand by one's word) or "break" a promise (meaning the opposite), like so:

I like Dave. Dave always keeps his promises

Joe promised to finish the document by 5pm, but he broke his promise

I never break my promises


In addition to some of the other answers, there are some idiomatic ways of saying this:

If the speaker warned in advance that they would not be able to complete the deal, they are said to have withdrawn it or taken it back

"I know I promised I'd help you move house on Sunday, but I'm going to have to take that back, sorry."

Today the government withdrew their promise to deliver a surplus.

However if there was no warning given, or if the person giving the promise had no reasonable excuse, you can say:

She promised me X, but then she went back on it

We made a deal but then he welshed on it.

Note that the origin of this is unknown - it is not a known racial slur (against Welsh people) as "Indian giver" is against American First Nation people.

He fell through on his promise

Fell through can also be applied the arrangements that have failed themselves, "the contract fell through".

Specifically with contractual or legal promises you can use default:

Our buyer in the UK defaulted on our contract.

Mike defaulted on his credit card.

  • "Welshed on it" is new to me. +1 for defaulted though.
    – Matt
    Feb 12, 2013 at 6:23
  • Don't use welched/welshed, some do find it offensive. The origin may be uncertain, but the OED says: "Origin uncertain; perhaps < Welsh adj., on account of alleged dishonesty of Welsh people ... Sometimes considered offensive in view of the conjectured connection with Welsh people."
    – Hugo
    Feb 12, 2013 at 8:41
  • I think went back is the closest. Or, literally, the opposite of standing by one's word would be 'going back' on one's word. Oct 17, 2016 at 15:31

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