When you hear someone use “a pinch of salt” or “grain of salt” as an English expression, you could be understandably confused.

This is an idiom that frequently causes problems for my student. Understanding idiomatic expressions like “taking it with a pinch of salt,” and knowing when to use them is an important step on the road to fluency in English.

Have you heard this before? Let’s look at it now.

What do “a pinch of salt” and “a grain of salt” mean in English?

To take something with a grain of salt or a pinch of salt means not to take it too seriously or too literally.

It is mostly used in relation to a piece of information, comment or advice.

The saying is slightly ambiguous in that it can be understood in one of three different ways.

  1. The grain or pinch of salt can refer to a small amount of regard with which something should be taken.
  2. However, it can also be thought to refer to Roman author, Pliny The Elder’s, belief that salt was an element in an antidote to poison. (In this case, the comment would be the poison).
  3. There is also the version that at the time salt was used to assist in the consumption of poison. (Here again, the comment would be the poison).

Examples of How Pinch or Grain of Salt is Used

I don’t believe the weather reports on television and so I take them with a pinch of salt.

I know Norma says she got the best grades in the class but I’m taking that with a pinch of salt until I see the results published.

John told me to wear a skirt rather than trousers to the interview but I took his advice with a pinch of salt.

Exercise: Explain the Following Cartoon

A pinch of salt, or a grain of salt.

Want to keep learning? Visit our lessons on English idioms and English phrasal verbs.