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‘At Hand’, ‘In Hand’, and ‘On Hand’ Phrases

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Learning English phrases requires understanding grammar and experience communicating with native speakers at hand. For example, we often hear people say phrases like “What do you have on hand?” and wonder if they’re asking if we’re carrying anything. Or we might get asked, “Is the situation in hand now?” and we get confused about the grammar and what to answer. Likewise, being asked, “Do you have a first aid kit at hand?” is an important question to know the answer to. Especially if there’s an accident at home. So let’s read more below on how we can distinguish between the three phrases correctly.

Before you can start learning to build sentences using ‘at hand’, ‘in hand’, and ‘on hand’, you must first know the definitions of the phrases and the grammar differences. In the explanation of the definitions, you will also see the grammar differences (of hand) between the three phrases. As this blog is developed and owned by a Malaysian, you’ll also see some examples thrown in in Bahasa Melayu for clarity! That’s because, for all we know, ‘at hand’, ‘in hand’, and ‘on hand’ all carry the meaning of ‘ada‘. This is where the translated sentences will help you digest the definitions and the differences between the three so that you will be more confident to use the phrases in the future. So let’s learns how to use ‘on hand’, ‘in hand’, and ‘at hand’ correctly!


In this section, you will go through the definitions of ‘at hand’, ‘in hand’, and ‘on hand’ with their direct Bahasa Melayu translations and grammar differences. Please bear in mind that these three terms are considered idioms. Therefore their translations may not have the word ‘tangan’ at all! The best website to refer to for Bahasa Melayu translation is, of course, the PRPM.

‘At Hand’
1. Having something or someone in close proximity means having something or someone at hand. ‘At hand’ describes something or someone who is conveniently nearby but is NOT nearby on purpose.
2. ‘At hand‘ can also refer to a situation that is currently happening.

The best Bahasa Melayu translations for ‘at hand‘ are ‘ada‘, and ‘kini‘.

In Hand
1. Having something in reserve or extra means having something in hand. ‘In hand‘ is used to describe a spare item that is available and can be used immediately.
2. ‘In hand‘ can also refer to a situation that is under control.

The best Bahasa Melayu translations for ‘in hand‘ are ‘ada‘, and ‘terkawal‘.

On Hand
1. Having something or someone available in close proximity means having something or someone on hand. ‘On hand‘ describes something or someone who is conveniently nearby on purpose.

The best Bahasa Melayu translation for ‘on hand‘ is ‘ada‘.

You might feel that all these three phrases have similar meanings, especially in their Bahasa Melayu translations. Fret not, you will see their differences more clearly once we discuss the application of these phrases below.

‘At Hand’ Phrases Example

Mothers usually have snacks at hand for their small children.
Para ibu selalunya ada membawa kudapan ringan ke mana-mana untuk anak-anak kecil mereka.

Let’s discuss the example above. Note that the phrase ‘at hand’ here means the snacks could be in the mothers’ handbags, or car dashboard, or simply anywhere. This means that the snacks that the mothers have might not even be consumed but they have them ‘at hand’ just in case.

On the other hand, note that the Bahasa Melayu translation of the sentence is a bit longer. This is because ‘at hand’ carries its meaning by the sentence ‘…ada membawa…ke mana-mana’. These phrases in Bahasa Melayu show that the snacks are available without a definite intention as to when to use/consume them.

They are gathered to discuss the dwindling situation at hand.
Mereka bertemu untuk membincangkan keadaan terkini yang semakin merosot.

In the example above, the phrase ‘at hand’ denotes the current situation. This simply translates into ‘keadaan terkini‘ in its Bahasa Melayu translation.

‘In Hand’ Phrases Example

“Here, I have some coins in hand.”
Ambillah, saya ada lebihan wang syiling.”

In the example above, we see that the person is offering some coins she has to another person because she has extra. Note that the coins are extras that she can give away because of the phrase ‘in hand’. In the Bahasa Melayu translation, the phrase ‘in hand’ expresses the meaning of the word ‘lebihan‘.

Everyone was relieved that the situation is in hand.
Semua orang lega setelah keadaan mula terkawal.

In the example above, ‘in hand’ expresses the meaning of ‘keadaan mula terkawal‘ in its Bahasa Melayu translation. A common mistake by Malaysians is to think that ‘in hand’ means ‘dalam tangan‘. This is due to confusion with the idiom ‘in one’s hands’.

‘On Hand’ Phrases Example

I feel like I have an assistant on hand with Waze.
Saya terasa seperti ada pembantu apabila menggunakan Waze.

In the example above, ‘on hand’ shows that an assistant is available on purpose. The purpose that the assistant serves here is for navigation (Waze). This sentence expresses the phrase ‘on hand’ with the word ‘ada‘ in Bahasa Melayu. But the difference here between ‘on hand’ and ‘at hand’ is that ‘on hand’ shows availability with purpose.

Let’s try one sentence to differentiate ‘at hand’ and ‘on hand’ that clearly shows the difference in ‘availability.

He is at hand shall I need help with the sconce installation.
He is on hand to help me with the sconce installation.

Do you spot the difference in meaning between the two sentences? Drop me a line in the Comment section to let me know what you think!


From the above definition and examples, you can see how to use ‘at hand’, ‘in hand’, and ‘on hand’ correctly. The translations in Bahasa Melayu can also aid your understanding of the small nuances that differentiate these three phrases.

If you like learning about English Grammar or easy ways to correct Malaysians’ common grammar errors, you might like to read more posts like below:

  1. How To Use Maybe and May Be Correctly
    2. How To Use Affect and Effect Correctly
    3. How To Use Jibe and Jive Correctly

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