I notice someone had asked What does "to take someone at face value" mean? before. But my question is a bit different.

  1. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/at-face-value said "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."

  2. https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/take-something-at-face-value said "to accept a situation or accept what someone says, without thinking there may be a hidden meaning"

  3. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/take-sth-at-face-value said "to accept something as it appears to be rather than studying it more closely"

  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/at%20face%20value said "as true or genuine without being questioned or doubted

I am not a native speaker and normally I just use one dictionary (longman most of time). But I have noticed several times that different dictionaries gives a phase a slightly different meanings, "at face value“ is just one example. When that happens what should I do, how can I know which one is the most relevant?

PS, if this question is off-topic here (I have no idea if it is or not) can anyone kindly let me know where I can ask the question.

About the meaning of "face value" I actually first learned from merriam-webster, "as true or genuine without being questioned or doubted". So when I read Bruce Springsteen biography "Born to Run", chapter 62 "My mother stood behind my wildest dreams, accepted me at face value for who I truly was", it totally makes sense.

But then I read these words "Whenever I encounter a math formula in the wild, I take a two-step approach. The first is to translate its methods into an intuitive analogy to the real world. I almost never take a formula at face value: I break it into parts, each with a story of its own." The longman and cambridge's explanation seem to make more sense.

  • 2
    This appears to be a duplicate of another question. If you have a specific question about a usage of the phrase "at face value", then you can ask that, providing information on that specific case. Does this answer your question? Why do different dictionaries seem to have different nuances in word definitions?
    – Stuart F
    Dec 15, 2021 at 10:20
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    The expression 'take X at face value' is polysemous. (a) if X is a person, it means 'regard X as not putting on a front'. What you see is what you get. (b) if X is a statement on everyday matters, it means 'accept X as being the truth, and without looking for sneakily hidden implications / ulterior motives'. (c) if X is a statement regarding an aspect of a complex issue, it means accepting it without rigorous proof of truth. Dec 15, 2021 at 13:57

1 Answer 1


You might consider the phrase face value for its basic meanings:

Merriam-Webster face value

1 : the value indicated on the face (as of a postage stamp or a stock certificate)
2 : the apparent value or significance
if their remarks may be taken at face value

Any of the definitions cited in your question can be seen as valid in the light of the basic meaning of the phrase. In some cases, a mention of face value (meaning apparent value or significance) means that the actual value may be different from that.

  • Hi I updated the my question about why I was bit confused with the meaning of "face value". Dec 15, 2021 at 12:19
  • @Qiulang邱朗 The writer seems to be saying that he studies formulas to understand what they mean. I have to say that the example about math formulas doesn't seem to me like a very apt use of at face value. Dec 15, 2021 at 13:04

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