At Face Value – A Blind Belief Or Unquestioned Acceptance?

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

At face value means accepting something as it appears or is presented without questioning its true value, significance, or validity. In other words, it means taking something as true based on appearance, without further investigation.

This phrase is an idiom—a common saying that doesn’t have literal meaning held within its intent. Idioms are essential to the English language because they give our conversations personality and a way for us to communicate our thoughts and emotions in ways others can relate to.

Let’s jump right into the depths of this idiom, from its meaning to its applications in various contexts. I’ll also provide synonyms and antonyms, and there’s even a quiz at the end! Let’s get to it!

At Face Value – A Blind Belief Or Unquestioned Acceptance 3

What Does the Idiom At Face Value Mean?

The idiom at face value means to perceive or interpret something strictly based on what is initially visible or apparent, without scrutinizing it further for any underlying substance or truth.

Merriam-Webster defines the idiom at face value “as true or genuine without being questioned or doubted.” Moreover, Collins Dictionary says, “If you take something at face value, you accept it and believe it without thinking about it very much, even though it might be untrue.”

It’s all about a situation where someone accepts information, an idea, or a person’s words exactly as they appear or are presented without seeking further verification or understanding of it.

As a multi-published author, I have to take reader reviews at face value. Sure, they might say they loved the book, but I always wonder if they’re just being nice. I guess that’s one of the curses of putting your creative work out there for the world to see.

But that’s an instance of being forced to accept something at face value. Usually, the idiom is used when someone doesn’t give a second thought about information that’s been presented to them.

Literal Meaning vs. Figurative Meaning

The term face value originated in the world of finance and refers to the stated value or worth of a currency, stock, or bond printed on its face. It’s the nominal value given to a legal contract, without factoring in market value or conditions.

When used in a figurative sense, at face value means accepting something as it appears or as it is presented, without questioning its real value, significance, or authenticity.

How Is At Face Value Commonly Used in Context?

Understanding how the phrase at face value is commonly used in various contexts is essential for effective communication. This expression implies accepting information or appearances as they are, without deeper analysis or skepticism.

In the following sections, we’ll explore different ways this phrase is employed, provide tips for using it effectively, and present examples that illustrate its application in everyday language and situations.

What Are the Different Ways to Use At Face Value?

Let’s put some things in perspective and take a look at some examples of how someone might work this idiom into different situations.

  • Personal conversations: Advising someone not to accept things at face value, encouraging skepticism and inquiry. “Don’t take his words at face value, Octavia. Do some digging on his background first.”
  • In business or legal discussions: Emphasizing the need to verify facts or claims before making decisions. “This new supplier seems too good to be true. Let’s test a few products first instead of taking their notes at face value.”
  • In a literal context: To indicate that something’s actual value is evident, like price tags on products and the value of currency. “Everything in the store is marked at face value.” or “The face value of this coin is one dollar.”

What Are Some Tips for Using At Face Value Effectively?

  • Use the phrase to encourage others to choose critical thinking or caution against naivety.
  • It’s useful in discussing media literacy or analyzing information, especially in today’s online world.
  • Be aware of the context; sometimes, accepting things at face value can be an appropriate approach, depending on the reliability of the source.

Where Can You Find Examples of At Face Value?

This idiom can be found all over literature and media in subtle ways. One of my favorite quotes is by Mindy Kaling (brilliant actor and writer!), where she said, “People take things at face value on social media. Earnestness is the assumption.” I try my best to keep that one in mind when I’m spending time on social media.

The idiom is also the title of a great 2001 film starring Scott Bao, where he plays a character who realizes his friend’s glamorous life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He took his friend’s awesome-looking life at face value. However, when he had to spend some time in his shoes, he realized that the face value of it was wrong.

Furthermore, it’s also being used in some online publications:

Say you take at face value the claim that the policy change is about reducing the number of abortions. (The Washington Post)

The special task force of Calcutta police arrested two men late on Monday with fake 2,000 rupee notes with a face value of Rs 10 lakh. (The Telegraph)

What Is the Origin of the Idiom At Face Value?

At Face Value Ngram
At face value usage trend.

The idiom at face value dates back to the 1850s. It was originally a financial term referring to the apparent worth of a currency or a financial document like shares in stocks or banknotes. Basically, it is the legal value of a coin or other form of money.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

The idiom evolved to metaphorically represent the broader concept of accepting things as they appear, without scrutiny, in different aspects of life.

Today, it’s used both literally and metaphorically, so always read the room and be sure you’re using the idiom in the right context.

What Are Some Related Terms to At Face Value?

There’s no denying that idioms are important to the English language. But so are synonyms and antonyms. These alternatives give us other options to communicate our thoughts, ideas, and feelings with the same intent. Here are a few alternatives to the phrase at face value that you can use.

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Use these if you want to maintain the same message but don’t want to use the idiom at face value.

  • Take at surface level
  • Accept as is
  • What you see is what you get
  • Believe at first sight
  • Believe without a doubt


If you want to express the opposite idea, then try one of these!

  • Scrutinize
  • Analyze thoroughly
  • Question deeply

At Face Value: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

What Have We Learned About At Face Value?

We have learned that the idiom at face value means accepting something without questioning its true worth or validity based on its appearance or presentation. Understanding this idiom is crucial not only in developing critical thinking skills but also in using it effectively in writing or in conversation. 

And now that we’ve covered the true meaning, its origin, examples in media, and even some alternatives to the phrase, you should have no problem wielding this one like a pro! We’ve got tons of other idiomatic guides just like this one on our site, so go check them out!