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From Middle English handsum, hondsom, equivalent to hand +‎ -some. Compare Dutch handzaam, German Low German handsaam. The original sense was ‘easy to handle or use’, hence ‘suitable’ and ‘apt, clever’ (mid 16th century), giving rise to the current appreciatory senses (late 16th century).


  • IPA(key): /ˈhæn.səm/[1] or occasionally /ˈhænd.səm/[2]~/ˈhænt.səm/[3]
  • (file)
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  • Homophone: Hansom (typically)
  • Hyphenation: hand‧some
  • Rhymes: -ænsəm


handsome (comparative more handsome or handsomer, superlative most handsome or handsomest)

  1. Having a pleasing appearance, good-looking, attractive, particularly
    That is one handsome tree you've got there.
    • 1661–1669 (date written; Gregorian calendar), Samuel Pepys, Mynors Bright, transcriber, “(please specify the entry date)”, in Henry B[enjamin] Wheatley, editor, The Diary of Samuel Pepys [], volumes (please specify |volume=I to X), London: George Bell & Sons []; Cambridge: Deighton Bell & Co., published 1893–1899, →OCLC:
      I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.
    • 1886 October – 1887 January, H[enry] Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., published 1887, →OCLC:
      At the farther end of this great lamp-lit apartment was another doorway closed in with heavy Oriental-looking curtains, quite unlike those that hung before the doors of our own rooms, and here stood two particularly handsome girl mutes, their heads bowed upon their bosoms and their hands crossed in an attitude of humble submission.
    • 1916, On H.R. 4683, site for post-office building at Chicago, Ill, page 117:
      On the opposite side of the street, on the corner, is the city hall, a very handsome building of brick and stone.
    • 1917, Anton Chekhov, translated by Constance Garnett, The Darling and Other Stories[1], Project Gutenberg, →ISBN, page 71:
      The mother, Ekaterina Pavlovna, who at one time had been handsome, but now, asthmatic, depressed, vague, and over-feeble for her years, tried to entertain me with conversation about painting. Having heard from her daughter that I might come to Shelkovka, she had hurriedly recalled two or three of my landscapes which she had seen in exhibitions in Moscow, and now asked what I meant to express by them.
    • 2006, Richard Leviton, The Gods in Their Cities, iUniverse, →ISBN, page 44:
      Often, human mortals describe their visits to the Tuatha's [places] in similar terms: they were great bright places, occupied by exceedingly handsome men and women, that sported wonderful crystal chairs, inexhaustible supplies of mead or ale ...
    1. Of a man or boy: attractively manly, having a pleasing face and overall effect.
      I was struck dumb. Here was the most handsome man I’d ever seen in my life coming out of the surf.
      • 1964, Ernest Hemingway, “Scott Fitzgerald”, in A Moveable Feast, New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, →OCLC, page 149:
        Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful, unmarked nose.
    2. Of a woman: statuesque, beautiful in a masculine or otherwise imposing way.
      She was either handsome or her uniform created a flattering effect but—being very nearsighted—he couldn't tell from this distance.
  2. Good, appealing, appropriate.
    • 2011 November 5, Phil Dawkes, “QPR 2 - 3 Man City”, in BBC Sport[2]:
      City have lapped up the plaudits this season for a series of handsome wins but manager Roberto Mancini has demanded that his side also learn to grind out results when they do not play well. He now has an example to point to.
    1. (of weather) Fine, clear and bright.
      • 1808, John Pinkerton, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World, page 513:
        Sunday, the sixth, we heaved up our sheet-anchor again, the day beginning with little wind, and continued handsome weather till eight at night, when the wind came to S. S. W. and it fell a snowing.
      • 1911, Farm Chemicals, page 60:
        The story goes that James Whitcomb Riley, the poet, on a beautiful spring day, in making his way from his home to his office, was accosted by numerous friends on the way who were exclaiming most extravagantly on the beauty of the day. It was "Good morning, Mr. Riley, a fine day;" "Good morning, Mr. Riley, [] a handsome day;" [] .
    2. Suitable or fit in action; marked with propriety and ease; appropriate.
      a handsome style
      • 1713, Henry Felton, A Dissertation on Reading the Classics and Forming a Just Style:
        Easiness and handsome address in writing.
      • 1815 December (indicated as 1816), [Jane Austen], chapter II, in Emma: [], volume I, London: [] [Charles Roworth and James Moyes] for John Murray, →OCLC:
        For a few days, every morning visit in Highbury included some mention of the handsome letter Mrs. Weston had received. “I suppose you have heard of the handsome letter Mr. Frank Churchill has written to Mrs. Weston? I understand it was a very handsome letter, indeed. Mr. Woodhouse told me of it. Mr. Woodhouse saw the letter, and he says he never saw such a handsome letter in his life.”
  3. Generous or noble in character.
  4. Ample; moderately large.
    Synonyms: hefty, substantial
    a handsome salary
    • 1779, Vicesimus Knox, Essays Moral and Literary:
      He [] accumulated a handsome sum of money.
  5. (obsolete) Of people and things: dexterous; skillful.

Usage notes[edit]

Deriving from its original senses of skillful, capable, deft, clever, and otherwise having things well in hand, handsome as a synonym of good-looking was initially primarily focused on the well-proportioned and noble aspect of a person embodying those positive traits. Over the course of the 19th & 20th centuries, it developed into a more general and gendered idea of male beauty distinguished from the feminine beauty thought to be implied by words like pretty, lovely, beautiful, and so on. In reference to men, it continues to have a more aesthetic and general sense than hot, manly, sexy, and similar words primarily focused on sexual attraction. In reference to women, present use of handsome can seem old fashioned; when it does appear, depending on context, it may continue the original sense of powerful or statuesque beauty or imply a mannish or otherwise unusual form of beauty. Similarly, present use of handsome for inanimate objects can seem awkward; when it does appear, it usually implies the object is well built and well proportioned.

Derived terms[edit]


  • Japanese: ハンサム



handsome (third-person singular simple present handsomes, present participle handsoming, simple past and past participle handsomed)

  1. (transitive, obsolete) To render handsome.


  1. ^ handsome”, in Dictionary.com Unabridged, Dictionary.com, LLC, 1995–present.
  2. ^ handsome”, in Collins English Dictionary.
  3. ^ handsome”, in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1996–present.