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Hands on vs. Hands-on

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  Angbeen Chaudhary  —  Grammar Tips

Short English phrases often begin as separate words, before eventually becoming hyphenated compounds, and finally evolving into closed compounds.

Hands on and hands-on are probably in the middle of this process. The eventual progression to a closed compound, however, will probably be blocked by the clumsiness of handson, which looks like it could just as easily be a compound of hand and son, or some alternate spelling of the name Hansen. As it stands today, which one should you use? If you have done a fair amount of reading, you will probably have seen both forms of this word in written English. They are both legitimate English constructions, but not in the same contexts.

Hands-on as adjective:

Hands-on is an adjective that describes the physical nature of some work, like hands-on experience in an oil field. It could also describe a person who has a very active disposition toward something, like a hands-on management style.

Martin takes a very hands-on approach to gardening; he weeds his garden by hand and spreads manure, rather than using weed killers and chemical fertilizers.

Hands on:

Hands on is not a standard alternative to the adjective hands-on.

That’s not to say the words hands and on would never appear next to each other in a piece of writing. One could have one’s hands physically touching something; the documentary Hands on a Hard Body follows an endurance competition to see who can remain physically touching a pickup truck for the longest amount of time.

“All hands on deck!” screamed the captain as a large wave crashed over the ship.


“It’s all about getting hands-on experience,” Pomietlo said. “It teaches (students) about going through a process.” [The Chippewa Herald]

Unfortunately, we didn’t have long enough to test the Acer Aspire R13’s performance capabilities during our brief hands-on time with it. [V3]

The event is run under the auspices of the New Zealand Secondary Schools Athletics Association (NSSAA) although it is tradition that the host city provide the hands-on volunteers. [Wanganui Chronicle]

Assemblyman Skoufis is hands-on and always willing to take on the good fight. [Times Herald-Record]

Part of the attraction of AVHS is that he could be hands-on in the day-to-day operations and still interact with the animals. [Chaffee County Times]

To my first-hand knowledge as a local MP, Currie was hands-on in guiding the University during the years from 1978-89, a difficult decade for all universities. [The Independent]

So, each person hands on the baton to someone else. [The Source]

Apple customers in China were finally able to get their hands on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus Friday. [HNGN]

Hands-on or hands on:

Hands-on is an adjective that describes a type of labor or an active predisposition toward something. Hands on is sometimes a verb phrase, sometimes a noun phrase, but never an adjective phrase. Since hands-on is in the company of several other hyphenated adjectives, including well-equipped, you should be able to group these words together in your mind.

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"Hands on vs. Hands-on." STANDS4 LLC, 2018. Web. 22 Feb. 2018. <>.

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