fistful vs handful what difference

what is difference between fistful and handful



fist +‎ -ful


fistful (plural fistfuls or fistsful)

  1. The amount that can be held in a closed fist
  2. A blow with the fist.


  • (amount held in a fist): handful
  • (blow with the fist): punch



  • Sutliff


Alternative forms

  • handfull (archaic)


From Middle English handful, hondful, from Old English handful (handful), from Proto-Germanic *handufullō, *handufulliz (handful), from Proto-Germanic *handuz (hand) + *fullaz (full); equivalent to hand +‎ full (fullness, plenty) or hand +‎ -ful. Cognate with Saterland Frisian Hondful (handful), West Frisian hânfol (handful), Dutch handvol (handful), German Handvoll (handful), Danish håndfuld (handful), Swedish handfull (handful), Icelandic handfylli (handful).


  • IPA(key): /ˈhæn(d)fʊl/, /ˈhæn(d)fəl/


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.
  3. A small number, usually approximately five.
    • This handful of men were tied to very hard duty.
  4. A group or number of things; a bunch.
  5. (colloquial) Something which can only be managed with difficulty.
    • 2008, Dog Fancy (volume 39, issue 11, page 76)
      Many times dogs are surrendered for reasons such as changes in the family unit, a death in the family, no time to care for a dog, or because that cute little puppy is now a 100 lb untrained handful.
  6. (slang) A five-year prison sentence.


  • (content of a hand): fistful
  • handbreadth, handsbreadth

Derived terms

  • have one’s handful

Related terms

  • handgrip
  • handhold


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