• synonyms


[hand-foo l]
See more synonyms for handful on Thesaurus.com
noun, plural hand·fuls.
  1. the quantity or amount that the hand can hold: a handful of coins.
  2. a small amount, number, or quantity: a handful of men.
  3. Informal. a person or thing that is as much as one can manage or control: The baby's tantrums made him a handful.
Show More

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. 2018

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
  1. the amount or number that can be held in the hand
  2. a small number or quantity
  3. informal a person or thing difficult to manage or control
Show More
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.

Show More
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper