[hand-foo l]

noun, plural hand·fuls.

the quantity or amount that the hand can hold: a handful of coins.
a small amount, number, or quantity: a handful of men.
Informal. a person or thing that is as much as one can manage or control: The baby's tantrums made him a handful.

Origin of handful

before 900; Middle English, Old English. See hand, -ful

Usage note

See -ful.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for handful

sprinkling, scattering, few, smattering, some

Examples from the Web for handful

Contemporary Examples of handful

Historical Examples of handful

  • He compares it to little things, to a tiny seed, to a handful of leaven, to a pearl.

    De Profundis

    Oscar Wilde

  • Now, every man who was a handful or two short of his crop began to look at us doubtfully.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • Yates caught up a handful of sand, and flung it lightly against the pane.

  • He stooped, thinking he had caught it, but took up only a handful of soapy foam.

    The Dream

    Emile Zola

  • Put them into the soup, add a handful of chopped parsley, and let them boil.

British Dictionary definitions for handful


noun plural -fuls

the amount or number that can be held in the hand
a small number or quantity
informal a person or thing difficult to manage or control
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for handful

Old English handful; see hand (n.) + -ful. Originally the quality that can be held in a hand; also a medieval linear measurement of four inches. Meaning "a small portion or part" is from c.1400. Figurative meaning "as much as one can manage" is from 1755.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper