I often see 手{て}, hand, used in a metaphorical sense to mean something along the lines of effort or presence... but I'm not totally sure.

For example, consider this sentence:


手{て}を抜{ぬ}く appears to be a set phrase, meaning, "to slack off."

However, I'm trying to get at exactly what the 手{て} refers to. When I first read this sentence, I thought that if one pulled one's "hand" out, then one simply wasn't doing the work.

What it seems to mean instead, though, is that one is still going to do the work, but not put in an effort.

Is it accurate to say, then, that 手{て}, when used metaphorically, usually refers to "effort"? Would the sentence mean the same thing if it was written like this:



2 Answers 2


手 is such a basic word that it represents many meanings, one of which is “efforts.” Other examples of 手 in this meaning are:

  • 手をかける (take great care), 手がかかる (be troublesome (because it requires efforts))
  • 手が込んでいる/手の込んだ (intricate)

There are too many meanings of 手 to list them up. Look up in a dictionary for a list.


It seems to mean "effort", i.e. "attempt to accomplish something", yes.

The primary not-completely-literal usage of 手 that I'm most familiar with is in discussions of the game of Go, where it generally means "play" or "move" in the game-mechanic sense of "single action by one player", and sometimes "play" in the sense of "manner of playing the game" (as in the phrase 神【かみ】の一手【いって】).

  • This is reminiscent of playing your "hand" in a card game.
    – qubyte
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 10:59
  • The reading is different, but I am reminded also of 上手 / 下手.
    – Billy
    Commented Nov 25, 2011 at 4:07

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