[ feys-tuh-feys ]
/ ˈfeɪs təˈfeɪs /
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with the fronts or faces toward each other, especially when close together.
involving close contact or direct opposition: a face-to-face confrontation of adversaries.
noting, relating to, or promoting interaction that takes place in person, as opposed to online interaction or electronic communications: face-to-face classrooms.Abbreviation: f2f, F2F, FTF, ftf
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Origin of face-to-face

Middle English word dating back to 1300–50
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does face-to-face mean?

Face-to-face describes an interaction that takes place in person, as opposed to over the phone or online, as in Instead of emailing back and forth, let’s meet face-to-face in my office this afternoon. It is also commonly spelled without hyphens, as face to face.

Sometimes the phrase is used as a noun referring to such a meeting, as in Let’s schedule a face-to-face for Friday morning. (In this usage, the term is almost always hyphenated.)

Sometimes face-to-face indicates direct competition or confrontation, as in This is the first time these two players will have had a face-to-face match-up. In this sense, the term is very similar to head-to-head, which is probably more commonly used for such situations, especially in the context of sports. This sense of the word can also be used metaphorically to refer to a direct encounter with something, especially death or something else negative.

In its most literal sense, face-to-face describes two things or people that are positioned so that they are facing each other, often close together, as in Please sit face-to-face with your partner for the practice interview or When you place these on the shelf, make sure they’re face-to-face instead of back-to-back.

Where does face-to-face come from?

The first records of face-to-face come from the 1300s. Several other terms are constructed in the same way, such as back-to-back and side-to-side (both of which can also appear without hyphens).

When you have a video call with someone, you can see each other’s faces, but meeting someone face-to-face typically means that you’re in the same physical space with them. Meeting face-to-face is often thought to promote natural communication, allowing people to respond to each other’s tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and other body language. The phrase is especially used in phrases like face-to-face communication and face-to-face meeting. A somewhat informal synonym for a face-to-face meeting is simply a face-to-face.

When it describes the positioning of things or people, face-to-face can be used to describe almost any objects that have fronts that can face each other. During a wedding ceremony, the two people getting married often stand face-to-face. Chairs can be positioned face-to-face so that the people who sit in them can talk to each other. The opposite of this position is back-to-back.

Face-to-face competition or confrontation is the kind that involves direct interaction between the opposing sides, especially in a one-on-one match-up. When this sense of the word is used figuratively, the thing being encountered doesn’t have to have a face or even a front. Instead, it often involves an encounter with danger or death, as in We came face-to-face with death when that tornado struck.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to face-to-face?

  • face to face (alternate spelling)

What are some synonyms for face-to-face?

What are some words that share a root or word element with face-to-face

What are some words that often get used in discussing face-to-face?

How is face-to-face used in real life?

Face-to-face is a very common phrase that can be used literally, figuratively, or somewhere in between. It usually involves direct interaction or the positioning of people or things so that they face each other.

Try using face-to-face!

Is face-to-face used correctly in the following sentence?

“I can’t believe he texted you instead of breaking up with you face-to-face.”

How to use face-to-face in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for face-to-face

face to face

adverb, adjective (face-to-face as adjective)
opposite one another
in confrontation
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with face-to-face

face to face


In each other's presence, opposite one another; in direct communication. For example, The two chairmen sat face to face, or It's time his parents met the teacher face to face. [Mid-1300s]


Confronting each other, as in We were face to face with death during the avalanche. [Late 1800s]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.