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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): /ˈhænsəm/
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  • Hyphenation: hand‧some


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

  1. (of a man or boy) Visually attractive; pleasant looking.
    a handsome man; a handsome garment, house, tree, horse.
  2. (of a woman) Striking, impressive and elegantly proportioned, though not typically beautiful.
    • 1662, Samuel Pepys
      I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.
  3. Suitable or fit in action; marked with propriety and ease; appropriate.
    a handsome style, etc.
    • 1815, Jane Austen, Emma, Volume I, Chapter 2
      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.”
    • (Can we date this quote?), Felton, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      Easiness and handsome address in writing.
  4. Generous or noble in character.
    Handsome is as handsome does.
  5. Ample; moderately large.
    a handsome salary
    • (Can we date this quote?), V. Knox, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      He [] accumulated a handsome sum of money.
  6. Having a good appearance.
    • 2011 November 5, Phil Dawkes, “QPR 2 - 3 Man City”, in BBC Sport[1]:
      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.
  7. (obsolete, said of things and people) Dexterous; skillful.
    • (Can we date this quote?), Robynson, Utopia:
      That they [engines of war] be both easy to be carried and handsome to be moved and turned about.
    • (Can we date this quote?), Edmund Spenser, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      For a thief it is so handsome as it may seem it was first invented for him


Derived terms[edit]



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

  1. (transitive, obsolete) To render handsome.