You’re in good hands (Idioms with ‘hand’, Part 2)

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by Kate Woodford

Last month we looked at a selection of idioms containing the word ‘hand’, concentrating on idioms connected with power. This post will cover ‘hand’ idioms with a range of meanings, focusing, as always, on the most frequent and useful.

Starting with the idiom in the title, if you say that someone is in good hands, you mean they are being looked after or trained by someone skilled who can be trusted: Like all parents, I want to know that my child is in good hands.

In UK English, the expression a safe pair of hands describes a colleague who can be relied on to do a job well and not make mistakes: The new director is widely regarded as a safe pair of hands.

If you have a difficult situation on your hands, you have to deal with it: We’ve got to do something to calm these kids down or we’re going to have a riot on our hands!

A situation that is out of your hands is not now your responsibility and is being dealt with by someone else: Anyway, there’s nothing I can do about the matter now. It’s out of my hands.

Two useful idioms that relate to doing new things are ‘try your hand at something’ and ‘turn your hand to something’. To try your hand at an activity is to try doing it for the first time: I have a bit more free time now so I thought I might try my hand at baking. If someone turns their hand to a new type of work, they start doing it, having done a different job before: Bored with journalism, he’s now hoping to turn his hand to politics.

In UK English, if you keep your hand in, you practise a skill just often enough so that you don’t lose it: I write an article now and then, just to keep my hand in.

Less pleasantly, to die or suffer at the hands of someone is to be killed or made to suffer by them: Just think of the suffering that animals endure at the hands of humans.

Someone who has their hands full is too busy to do any more work: We can’t ask Tom to help out. He’s got his hands full setting up the cafe.

In UK English, people sometimes admit that they are guilty of something bad by saying they put their hands up: I mean, I’ll put my hands up. I’m not always the best at helping around the house.

If you make or lose money hand over fist, you make or lose a lot of it very quickly: Suddenly, everyone wanted to buy their products and they were making money hand over fist.

Finally, if you win a competition hands down, you win it very easily: If you played her at tennis, you’d win hands down! This phrase is also used to say that someone or something is definitely the best / worst / funniest, etc.: She was, hands down, the best boss I ever worked for.


39 thoughts on “You’re in good hands (Idioms with ‘hand’, Part 2)

  1. Tatiana Balandina

    Thank you, Kate! It’s a great pleasure for me to enrich my English vocabulary. I really keep my hand in revising and learning English while staying In Russia.

  2. Maryem Salama

    We say, “if only I smell my hand, I get full or Well-fed.” It is said when there is a necessity to let the others know that you are from a well-to-do family, and you are too rich to think of asking the others for help. It is also an indication that people used to eat by their hands in the past. Thank you, Kate.

  3. Mohammad Afzal

    Kate, Thank you so much for such an informative post. Hands down, it has been the best post on idioms.

    Thank you so much!

  4. Nano Lakes


    I’m going to practice these idioms but I like the most “a safe pair of hands”.

    “Kate is a safe pair of hands so I can rely on examples.”

    Thanks kate!!!

  5. Denis

    Here is an idiom in Russian – I am washing my hand, that means I can`t help doing something, because it is not my responsibility.

    1. Denis

      Great example, Denis! However, there is pretty much the same idiom in English – ‘wash your hands of sth’, which means that you intentionally stop being involved in or connected in any way with something you were previously responsible for.
      Also, be careful with the phrase ‘can`t help doing something’.
      If you can’t help doing something, it usually means that you are not able to control yourself to stop doing it.

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