KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 29 FACE TO FACE

Listen to KA Wordcast


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 PDF DOWNLOAD:KA WORDCAST Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 29 FACE TO FACE



KA WORDCAST: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs

Lesson 29:  FACE TO FACE

Poker Face– Lady Ga-Ga

In each lesson of KA Wordcast: Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, we introduce a number of important idioms, phrasal verbs, and other common English expressions and make sure you know how to put them to effective use.  In previous episodes, we’ve looked at some of the many idioms there are in English based on different body parts—great phrases like “take to heart,” “heads up,” and “gut reaction,” for example.  Today, we’ll be looking at 22 phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions based on the word FACE, expressions that you are likely to hear almost every day.

This lesson is available to download in PDF format.  To test your knowledge of today’s phrases before the lesson begins, take the quick “pre-test” that is downloadable from our website.  Then, after the podcast, use the answer sheet to see how well you did.  Always keep in mind that the best way to boost your English speaking and writing skills is to review and practice what you’ve learned, over and over again … which is what these Wordcasts are all about.

Phrasal verbs and idioms are a little different.  To put it in a nutshell, a phrasal verb is an idiomatic expression made up of a verb and another element such as a particle, preposition, or combination of both.   An idiom, on the other hand, is a combination of words whose figurative meaning is separate from its literal or real meaning.




FACE TO FACE is an adverb that describes a situation where you talk to someone in person—while looking him or her in the face, so to speak.

Mom:              Your teacher called today and asked to speak with me FACE TO FACE. Are you in some kind of trouble?

Tristan:         Um…  I don’t think so.  I hope not. 

With so much distance between us, I don’t often get to speak to my family FACE TO FACE, which is why I am so grateful for Skype.

“Let’s talk about this FACE TO FACE,” the doctor said.  “I’d rather not talk about your medical condition over the phone.” 

FACE TO FACE can also mean to be in a situation where you see something right in front of you.

Victoria’s work as a Red Cross nurse often brings her FACE TO FACE with human pain and suffering.

Having grown up in Kabul, Aneena came FACE TO FACE with the horrors of war from a very early age.

When used as an adjective, the expression is hyphenated—FACE-TO-FACE.

The headmaster decided that the best way to handle the situation was to have an open, straightforward, FACE-TO-FACE meeting with the boy’s parents.



To have or keep a STRAIGHT FACE means to look serious even when you are saying something funny or are in a funny situation.

None of the nine-year-olds in my fourth grade class can say “Uranus” with a STRAIGHT FACE.  They always explode into fits of giggling. 

Brian: How do you like the old lady costume my mom made me for today’s assembly?

Kelly:  You look hilarious! I hope you can manage to say all your lines with a STRAIGHT FACE.

The children straightened up in their seats and put on STRAIGHT FACES when the school principal walked into the classroom.

I struggled to keep a STRAIGHT FACE when one of my kindergartners showed me a picture she had drawn of her parents having an argument.

A newsreader was suspended after she failed to keep a STRAIGHT FACE while reporting the death of prominent government leader’s pet dog. 




The slang expression POKER FACE is similar to STRAIGHT FACE above.  It describes someone whose facial expression is difficult to figure out or interpret.  This expression comes from poker, the card game where a player tries to remain expressionless so that the other players can’t tell what cards he/she is holding. 

Justin often makes funny comments with a POKER FACE, so it’s hard to tell if he’s joking or not.

In a card game, my friend Kevin can never manage to keep a POKER FACE when he’s got a good hand. 



If something is STARING YOU IN THE FACE, it is plainly visible or obvious, even though you may not have noticed it before.  It has both literal and figurative uses, as in:

Timmy:          Mom!  I can’t find my shin pads, and I’ve looked everywhere!

Mom:              They’re right here on the table, Timmy, STARING YOU IN THE FACE!

The answer to the quiz question about the colors of the Italian flag was STARING US IN THE FACE all along.   The Quiz Master was wearing an Italian football jersey!

The solution to the problem had been STARING me IN THE FACE from the beginning.  I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before.


Something that is imminent or unavoidable also STARES YOU IN THE FACE.

With the Braves leading 6-3 at half time, defeat was STARING the Thunderbirds IN THE FACE.

When he failed his first three university entrance exams, having to go to cram school for a year was STARING Toru IN THE FACE.



A person who is TWO-FACED says nice things about you “to your face” (in front of you), but then says bad things about you “behind your back” (to other people).  Deceitful, insincere, double-crossing, hypocritical, and backstabbing are some near equivalents.

Don’t trust Cali.  She is a TWO-FACED liar who will say and do anything to get what she wants.

Why do you have to be so TWO-FACED and manipulative? 

Uriah Heep, in Dickens’s great novel David Copperfield, is the most TWO-FACED character in all of English literature and has become a byword for hypocrisy.




Literally, FACE VALUE refers to the actual worth or price of a stamp, coin, or ticket.

Scalpers outside the stadium were selling tickets for today’s World Cup game at three or even four times their FACE VALUE.

Sam’s superhero doll collection is worth much more than its FACE VALUE.   He could sell some of the figures at ten times what they originally cost. 

Figuratively, if you TAKE something AT FACE VALUE, you accept it for what it appears to be rather than finding out more about it.

Bernie tends to exaggerate, so it’s difficult to TAKE anything he says AT FACE VALUE.

The school board took the faculty report AT FACE VALUE and agreed to provide each student with a new laptop computer.



No one likes to LOSE FACE, that is, to be embarrassed or to look stupid because of something said or done.

The new teacher openly shared some of his fears and past mistakes with his class, hoping that it would make them like and trust him more, but it actually caused him to LOSE FACE.

My boss is more worried about LOSING FACE than admitting that he was in the wrong. 

I know you are upset with the other members of the tennis club, but you’ll only LOSE FACE if you lose your temper.



In contrast, to SAVE FACE means to do something positive to gain or recover people’s respect.

Celebrities who have been caught up in some ugly scandal often take part in charity events to SAVE FACE. 

In his televised speech, the disgraced mayor was more concerned about SAVING HIS OWN FACE than solving the city’s homeless problem. 



A SLAP IN THE FACE is something that someone does that insults or offends you.  Other informal synonyms include put-down, kick in the teeth, cheap shot, and low blow.

Not getting invited to Gina’s birthday party was a real SLAP IN THE FACE for me.  I honestly thought that she and I were good friends. 

After all the hard work I put into this month’s school paper, it was a SLAP IN THE FACE not to have anyone comment on it.

Closing down the town’s only remaining cinema was a SLAP IN THE FACE to everyone who had campaigned to keep the historical landmark open.


10. SHOW one’s FACE

When you SHOW your FACE somewhere, you go there even though you were not expected or welcomed, usually because you have done something bad or have upset someone.

After losing the class election to Patty, Lisa stayed home, afraid to SHOW her FACE at school. 

How could Harry SHOW his FACE at Mark’s graduation party after he stole Mark’s girlfriend?

It always amazes me how some politicians dare to SHOW their FACE in public again after making racist or other bigoted comments.

You can also use this expression to angrily you tell someone that you don’t want to see him/her again.

Don’t you ever SHOW YOUR FACE AROUND here again!



When you have a LONG FACE, you look sad or depressed.

There were some LONG FACES at school this morning when the A-Levels results were handed out. 

When I told my children we couldn’t afford to go on a holiday this year, their LONG FACES nearly broke my heart.

Kip:                Why the LONG FACE, Marie?

Marie:            I just failed my driving test …  for the third time!

Did you see the Giants’ LONG FACES as they stood by the dugout and watched the Royals celebrate their World Series victory?



To FACE FACTS (or, to FACE the FACT that) means to confront the truth or to accept the consequences of some action.  Come to grips with and face reality are some related expressions.

You’re going to have to FACE FACTS and admit that if you were going to be drafted by a professional football club, it would have happened by now.

The President had to FACE the FACT that the majority of Americans were against him on the immigration issue.

When he was arrested for drunk driving, Donovan had to FACE the FACT that he had a drinking problem.



When you FACE a problem, say, HEAD-ON, you confront and deal with it directly and honestly.

Rather than putting your homework off to the last minute, why don’t you FACE it HEAD ON as soon as you get it and get it out of the way?

“Let’s FACE this student truancy problem HEAD-ON and see if we can come up with a solution,” Principal Adams said during this morning’s staff meeting.

So you can FACE your fear of flying HEAD-ON, we’re going to take you up in the plane and put you in the co-pilot’s seat. 



Like FACE HEAD-ON, FACE UP TO means to confront reality or an unpleasant situation, or to accept responsibility or blame for some mistake or bad action.

Liv:     Can I stay home from school today?  I didn’t finish my assignment, and I don’t want to get in trouble.

Mom: Don’t be silly. Just go to school and FACE UP TO your teacher. 

After the horseback riding accident that left Denise paralyzed from the waist down, she had to FACE UP TO the reality that she would never walk again.

You’re nearly an adult, Shinkai.  You need to FACE UP TO your responsibilities and start planning for your future.


15.                (be) FACED WITH

To be FACED WITH a difficult decision, for example, is to be forced to confront and deal with it.

Whenever I’m FACED WITH a problem, I always go to my best friend Martha for advice.

“Here’s what we’re FACED WITH,” Mrs. Polk told her troublemaking student. “Either you stop disrupting class, or I will have you suspended.”

FACED WITH the toughest decision of her life, Penelope decided to follow her dream and become an actress rather than do what her father wanted her to do.

FACED WITH is also often used in a more literal sense to mean “stand in front of,” as in:

FACED WITH his homeroom teacher at the mall later that afternoon, Wally had to quickly come up with an excuse for being absent that day.

There was an awkward moment in the courtroom yesterday when the accused was FACED WITH his victim’s parents. 



To FACE OFF means to get ready for a confrontation or competition (as in ice hockey).

The two remaining contestants will FACE OFF on tonight’s finale of Live and Unplugged!

During this evening’s live televised debate, the two presidential candidates will be FACING OFF for the first time.

The moment Andy and Greg started to FACE OFF, I knew that the argument would escalate and turn into a full-blown fight.



Literally, to FACE OUT means to place something in a position so that the front surface is exposed.

Mannequins in storefront windows are FACED OUT so that passersby can see them.

“When the curtains open,” the director told the actress, “you want to be seen sitting on the bench, reading a magazine with the front cover FACING OUT and hiding your face.”

More figuratively, to FACE OUT means to engage directly with someone or something, often to resolve or get through a problem or conflict.

Don’t be afraid of what those mean girls might say.  FACE them OUT and use your wits to outsmart them. 

Aidan FACED OUT his fear of heights and walked slowly and carefully across the narrow suspension bridge.



When you FACE AWAY from someone or something, you turn or look in the opposite direction.

If you don’t have protective eyewear, FACE AWAY from the sun during a solar eclipse.

My daughter is so shy that whenever she has to stand up in front of an audience, she FACES AWAY from the crowd to speak. 



When something (or someone) is lying FACE UP, you can see its/his/her front surface.

Mother doesn’t consider the sitting room truly tidy unless all the magazines on the coffee table are neatly placed with their covers FACING UP. 

Holding the highest possible poker hand—a Royal Flush—Clinton laid all his cards FACE UP on the table and grinned.

When I came home, I found my son lying FACE UP on the living room sofa, staring at the ceiling, lost in thought about something or other.

When something (or someone) is lying FACE DOWN, you can see its/his/her back surface.

My Aunt Elizabeth gets really upset if I lay the book I’m reading FACE DOWN with the pages open.  She says it’s disrespectful. 

“Draw a card from the pack and look at it,” the magician told the young boy.   “Now place it FACE DOWN on the table.  Let me guess.  Is it the nine of spades?”

After being sent to her bedroom for talking back to her mother, Mellie lay FACE DOWN on her bed and cried herself to sleep.

To FACE someone DOWN, by the way, means to deal with that person in a strong, determined way.

My two kids often have a staring contest to see who can FACE the other DOWN.

Daniel FACED DOWN his opponent in the debate contest with a look of confidence and conviction.


When you act IN THE FACE OF something, you deal with the situation despite difficulties or dangers.

IN THE FACE OF strong opposition from family and friends, Tanya carried out her plan to go backpacking in Nepal on her own.

The mayor praised local firefighters for, IN THE FACE OF great danger, rescuing dozens of trapped children from the fifteenth floor of a burning building. 



TO ONE’S FACE: When you say something to someone’s face, you say it openly and honestly with that person standing right in front of you.

If you have a complaint about the way I run this school, don’t talk about me behind my back: say it TO my FACE.

Gretchen was afraid to break up with Gary TO his FACE, so she it did it via email.



ON THE FACE OF IT: This expression simply means apparently or based on appearances only.

ON THE FACE OF IT, starting up the new school seemed to Mr. Kobayashi to be a good idea, but it opened up a Pandora’s box of problems that have made it more trouble than it’s worth.

ON THE FACE OF IT, the election looked cut and dried for the incumbent, but his challenger turned out to be a formidable opponent.




Now that you have a good understanding of all the key phrases we have examined today, you can go back and check out your score on the “pre-test” exercise.  How did you do?

KA WORDCAST Idioms and Phrasal Verbs Lesson 29 PRETEST