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]
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  • Hyphenation: hand‧some
  • Homophone: Hansom


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

  1. (of people, things, etc) Having a good appearance; good-looking.
    a handsome garment, house, tree, or horse
    • 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.
    • 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) Visually attractive; pleasant looking, good-looking.
      a handsome man
    2. (of a woman) beautiful, or (especially in later usage) striking, impressive and elegantly proportioned.
      • 1662, Samuel Pepys, diary
        I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.
      • 1887, H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure[1]:
        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.
      • 1917, Anton Chekhov, Constance Garnett, transl., The Darling and Other Stories[2], Project Gutenberg, published 9 September 2004, →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.
  2. Good, appealing, appropriate.
    • 2011 November 5, Phil Dawkes, “QPR 2 - 3 Man City”, in BBC Sport[3]:
      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, 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.”
  3. Generous or noble in character.
    • 1859, George Meredith, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, Chapter 11:
      I'm a plain man, Mr. Feverel. Above board with me, and you'll find me handsome.
    Handsome is as handsome does.
  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, said of things and people) Dexterous; skillful.
    • 1551, Ralph Robinson, Utopia (originally by Thomas More):
      That they [engines of war] be both easy to be carried and handsome to be moved and turned about.
    • 1633, Edmund Spenser, A Vewe of the Present State of Irelande  [], Dublin: [] Sir James Ware; reprinted as A View of the State of Ireland [], Dublin: [] the Society of Stationers, [] Hibernian Press,  [] By John Morrison, 1809:

Usage notesEdit

The sense of good looking was originally equally applicable to both sexes, but is now used mostly of men. In current usage, when applied to a woman it may connote a non-traditional or masculine form of beauty, as opposed to more neutral alternatives such as beautiful or attractive.

Derived termsEdit



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 the Collins English Dictionary
  3. ^ handsome”, in Merriam–Webster Online Dictionary.