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Alternative forms[edit]


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 Saterland Frisian Hondful (handful), West Frisian hânfol (handful), Dutch handvol (handful), Danish håndfuld (handful), Swedish handfull (handful), Icelandic handfylli (handful).


  • (file)
  • IPA(key): /ˈhæn(d)fʊl/, /ˈhæn(d)f(ə)l/


handful (plural handfuls or handsful)

  1. The amount that a hand will grasp or contain.
    I put two or three corns in my mouth, liked it, stole a handful, went into my chamber, chewed it, and for two months after never failed taking toll of every pennyworth of oatmeal that came into the house. - Joseph Addison, The Spectator, Vol. VI
  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.
    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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