hands full: meaning and explanation

to have your hands full = to be very busy with something, meaning you don’t have time to do anything else.

We can say that you have your hands full with something or doing something. e.g. I’ve got my hands full with the children/looking after the children.

This idiom is useful when making an excuse – you can’t do something because you’re too busy with something else. e.g. I wish I could come with you, but I’ve got my hands full looking after my nieces and nephews this weekend.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: Scotland

, .
I'd , but I'm my getting everything conference.

About the sentence

…I’d love to help, but…

The phrase I’d love to (verb) but… is useful when you don’t want to do something and need to make a polite excuse. e.g:

Do you want to come over this weekend?
I’d love to, but I’ve got loads of work to do.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: North America


couldn't come – I looking after .

About the sentence

…Sorry I couldn’t come over…

The phrasal verb to come over means to visit someone socially. e.g. If you aren’t busy, do you fancy coming over for dinner tonight?

Micro-listening #3

Accent: North America

, .

I'm boss who's maternity leave , so I've .

About the sentence

…I’m covering for my boss

In this context, the verb to cover for someone means to take responsibility for the work of someone who is away, perhaps because of illness or because they are on holiday, or even for something very temporary such as going for lunch. The person covering for them will do their work or take over their role until they come back. e.g. Do you mind covering for me while I make a phone call? I shouldn’t be more than 10 minutes.

Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • Can you think of a time you couldn’t do something because you were too busy (you had your hands full…)
  • Have you got your hands full with anything at the moment?

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