Mark: Hi Gina, how are you and Michael doing? You look great!
Karen: Hi Mark! We’re good–but totally crazy with the kids right now…!
Mark: Well, it seems like you’re handling everything okay.
Karen: Ha! Maybe it looks like that on the surface… but I’m so stressed out! I had no idea how much work kids are!!
Mark: Well, just let me know if you need a break. Sue and I would love to babysit, and you and Michael can take a night off.
Karen: Thanks so much, Mark!
Barbara: Hi John! How’s your new job?
John: Hey Barbara! It’s going well, thanks!
John: Of course not! (laughs) You know there’s always more than what you see on the surface… I have a lot more responsibilities than I thought I would have!
Meaning: at first glance, outward appearance (there is more than what you see in the beginning or on the surface)
In Example 1, Mark thinks Gina looks great–but really she is stressed out because she’s so busy with two small children!
In Example 2, John explains to Barbara that there is a lot more for him to do at his new job than he thought at first.
The idiom “on the surface” was taken from Unit 10 (L.A. vs. N.Y.C.) in LSI’s textbook Reading Transitions for Level 4 Reading/Vocabulary classes.