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I am looking for the correct American English expression and spelling.

My particular context is that I am responsible for something precious, which I give to somebody else, who is then responsible from that moment on, e.g., I handed over the diamonds.

Would you say

I handed something over, or would you rather say I handed something off?

Also, would this transaction then be a handover, a hand-over, a handoff or a hand-off?

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I'd say that handing something over implies a more permanent change of ownership, and not necessarily to an ally. Muggers don't jump out of the alley and say:

Hand off your watch!

Similarly, defense attorneys don't hand off papers to the prosecution, they hand them over.

However, hand off implies an interaction between two people with a common goal. Also, handing off often means the other person is going to do something with the object.

I handed off the papers to Roberta, and she got the report finished.

In sports like American football and track, we don't hand over the ball or the baton, we hand it off:

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As for diamonds, the cutters may hand them off to the setters (if they work together in the same building), but the couriers might hand them over to the jewelers, after the jewelers sign for them (handing over doesn't always imply malicious intent). However, men simply hand them to women when they want to propose marriage. We don't need to always hand something off or over:

I handed the newspaper to my son, and he carried it into the house.

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  • As for the name of the transaction, it can be called a hand off or a handoff (words like these have a way of merging over time). I'd probably use handoff and handover – though you can find instances of both.
    – J.R.
    Mar 6, 2014 at 10:20
  • Since I can only accept one answer, I choose this because it fits my context best. Nevertheless, the other answers also helped me to understand the expressions better. I would upvote them but cannot do so due to lack of reputation.
    – Bettina
    Mar 6, 2014 at 12:45
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If you are talking about something which you no longer need, but you think someone else might be glad of, then in Britain we would say handed on.

'When my parents died I 'handed on' some of their belongings to a charity shop'

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From my experience, 'handed over' and 'handed off' have two slightly different meanings.

I handed something over

Indicates that you passed something you were working on to someone else, but may have been able to complete it yourself.

While

I handed something off

means that you passed it to someone else, but were either unable or too busy to complete it yourself. My boss usually hands off tasks to me, while I would hand them over to a fellow employee for completion.

I would choose the 'handover' option for both of these though. 'Hand-off' will not provide as clear a meaning.

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  • I provided some more context for my question. Thank you for your differentiation. Does your last remark mean that the spelling would be without hyphen for handover and with hyphen for hand-off?
    – Bettina
    Mar 6, 2014 at 10:03
  • I would definitely not combine 'hand-off' into one word, but when it's hyphenated, its meaning is clear. 'Handover' can be one word though.
    – Ronan
    Mar 6, 2014 at 10:46
  • We wouldn't use 'hand-off' in that sense. To 'hand-off' is a rugby tactic which means pushing someone away with the hand.
    – WS2
    Mar 6, 2014 at 10:51
  • I don't think the asker is talking about the sporting term though.
    – Ronan
    Mar 6, 2014 at 14:35

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