ABSTRACT Laboratory observations regarding the limit conditions for particle entrainment into suspension are presented. A high-speed video system was used to investigate conditions for the entrainment of sediment particles and glass beads lying over a smooth boundary as well as over a rough bed. The results extend experimental conditions of previous studies towards finer particle sizes. A criterion for the limit of entrainment into suspension is proposed which is a function of the ratio between the flow shear velocity and particle settling velocity. Observations indicate that particles totally immersed within the viscous sublayer can be entrained into suspension by the flow, which contradicts the conclusions of previous researchers. A theoretical analysis of the entrainment process within the viscous sublayer, based on force–balance considerations, is used to show that this phenomenon is related to turbulent flow events of high instantaneous values of the Reynolds stress, in agreement with previous observations. In the case of experiments with a rough bed, a hiding effect was observed, which tends to preclude the entrainment of particles finer than the roughness elements. This implies that, as the ratio between particle and roughness element sizes becomes smaller, progressively higher bed shear stresses are required to entrain particles into suspension. On the other hand, an overexposure effect was also observed, which indicates that a particle moving on a smooth bed is more prone to be entrained than the same particle moving on a bed formed by identical particles.