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From Middle English, from Old English handful (handful), from Proto-Germanic *handfullą, *handfullō, *handfulljô (handful), from Proto-Germanic *handuz (hand), *fullaz (full), equivalent to hand +‎ full (fullness, plenty). Cognate with West Frisian hânfol (handful), Dutch handvol (handful), Danish håndfuld (handful), Swedish handfull (handfull), Icelandic handfylli (handful).



handful (plural handfuls or handsful)

  1. As much as the hand will grasp or contain. - Joseph Addison
  2. (obsolete) A hand's breadth; four inches.
    Knap the tongs together about a handful from the bottom. - Francis Bacon
  3. A small quantity, usually approximately equal to five, the number of fingers on a hand.
    This handful of men were tied to very hard duty. - Fuller
  4. Something which can only be managed with difficulty.
    Those twins are a real handful to look after.


Derived terms[edit]

  • To have one's handful: (Obsolete): to have one's hands full; to have all one can do.
    They had their handful to defend themselves from firing. - Sir Walter Raleigh

Related terms[edit]


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