I was wondering if there is any difference between the idiom "pull someone's leg" and the phrasal verb "put somebody on".

The Cambridge Dictionary says to put someone on means:

To try to persuade someone that something is true when it is not, usually as a joke.

Example: She said she was planning to give her house to a charity for the homeless but I thought she was putting me on.

Also as it says, to pull one's leg means:

To tell someone something that is not true as a way of joking with the person.

Example: Stop pulling my leg – you didn’t have lunch with Bono!

As you can see within the descriptions and examples, they both can be swapped for each provided example and seems that they are interchangeable.

Please kindly enlighten me.


I think the descriptions are very clear. Leg pulling is always humorous deception.

  • Well @Bruce Murray what about "put on"? What distinguishes these two? I guess you mean "pull sb's leg" is always humorous, while "put on" can be either malicious or humorous. Right? – A-friend Jun 13 '20 at 15:33
  • Yes, although be careful about 'putting someone on the spot', which means ask someone a question that is difficult or embarrassing to answer – Bruce Murray Jun 13 '20 at 15:45

American English...

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British English...

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In short, putting someone on is primarily an AmE equivalent to BrE having someone on (tricking, deceiving them). Usually for amusement - hence the "gold standard" Cockney expression Are you having a laugh? for Are you playing games with me?

  • Thank you, but what about "pull one's leg"? – A-friend Jun 13 '20 at 15:37
  • Pull someone's leg is used in British English, if that is what you are asking. I've never heard put someone on, but here in the UK having you on and pulling your leg mean pretty much the same. – Kate Bunting Jun 13 '20 at 16:49
  • A-friend: Well, your question text already says you're aware that putting someone on and pulling someone's leg "can be swapped", so I'm not sure what else you want to know about that aspect. I'm just pointing out that Brits mostly use having there, not putting. But as @Kate says, the "legpulling" version is perfectly familiar to Brits too - check out the (British) Blackadder sketch involving contrafibularities – FumbleFingers Jun 13 '20 at 17:12
  • Brits also say 'you're winding me up' with the same meaning as 'you're pulling my leg'. A wind-up is a leg-pull. – Michael Harvey Jun 13 '20 at 18:13
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    Also 'pull someone's plonker' is sometimes heard. This is a bit vulgar. – Michael Harvey Jun 13 '20 at 18:14

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