What does the idiom "on the face of it" mean?

Are you using the idiom on the face of it but not sure about its meaning? Using idioms, which are important elements of spoken and written language, in the right place strengthens your language skills. Examine the meaning of the on the face of it idiom and the situations in which it is used.

Meaning of "on the face of it"


The phrase “on the face of it” means that, at first glance, something appears to be true. It is generally used to indicate that something appears to be a certain way without actually confirming its truth.


The expression can be traced to the mid-16th century, when it was written as “at the first face of it”. From there, the phrase has evolved and is now commonly used in its current form.


The phrase “on the face of it” is often used to describe a situation that appears to be a certain way. It is used to express uncertainty or doubt, as it implies that something may not actually be true even though it appears to be at first glance. It is also used in situations when more information is needed before making a judgment.

Example Sentences

  • On the face of it, the evidence seems to support the prosecution’s argument, but there could be more to the story.
  • The agreement looks fair, on the face of it, but there may be hidden clauses that we’ve not seen yet.
  • The proposal seems good, on the face of it, but we need to look at it more closely before making a decision.

The meanings of the words in the "on the face of it" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.


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