'Roll' vs 'Hand Roll': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on September 6, 2023

‘Roll’ vs ‘Hand Roll’: What’s the difference? This article may pique the interest of any readers who identify as foodies or chefs because we’ll be exploring some tasty words. We’ll also see how subtle phrasing differences can lead to major changes in meaning. 

Are you in a rush? Here’s a quick preview of what you’ll learn:

  • ‘Roll’ is a word that means to turn over oneself on an axis, or in the food context a small loaf of bread
  • ‘Hand Roll’ is a word that refers to a cone-shaped sushi bite 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Roll’ vs ‘Hand Roll’?

To begin comparing these words, let’s get the more obvious differences out of the way. First, one is a single word, and the other is a phrase. Second, they belong to different parts of speech, meaning they have different grammatical functions within a sentence. 

  • ‘Roll’ is primarily a verb, meaning it describes an action.
  • Meanwhile, ‘Hand Roll’ is distinctly a noun, meaning it describes a thing — in this case, a portion of food. 

As mentioned in the preview, ‘Roll’ can also be a noun that describes a food, which leads to the confusion we hope to clarify. 

  • ‘Roll’ as a food is a small round of bread that looks like a wheel that could roll around. You can use this image to remember what it looks like. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Hand Roll’ is a sushi dish that, you guessed it, is made by hand rolling the seaweed wrap into a cone. Picture making the dish yourself when you want to remember what the term means.

Relying on the words to help us with meaning can be a good place to start when we learn new words, but they don’t give us the whole picture. Especially since these words can have multiple definitions, let’s be sure to learn everything we can about ‘Roll’ vs ‘Hand Roll’. 

Definition of ‘Roll’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Roll’ is a verb that means:

  • Move or cause to move in a particular direction by turning over and over on an axis
    • “The car rolled down the hill.”
  • Turn or cause to turn over to face a different direction
    • “She rolled onto her side.”
  • Move along from side to side uncontrollably or unsteadily
    • “They rolled about with laughter.”
  • Throw a die or dice.
    • “He rolled the dice three times.”
  • (of a vehicle) Move or run on wheels
    • “The van was rolling along the highway.”
  • (of waves, smoke, clouds, or fog) Move or flow forward in an undulating motion
    • “The fog rolled across the fields.”
  • Turn something flexible over and over on itself to form a tube, cylinder, or ball
    • “He rolled the dough into a ball.”
  • (of a person or animal) curl up tightly
    • “The armadillo rolled itself into a ball.”
  • (of a loud, deep sound such as thunder or drums) reverberate

As a noun, ‘Roll’ can also mean: 

  • A cylinder is formed by winding flexible material around a tube or by turning it over and over on itself without folding
    • “A roll of carpet.”
  • An item of food that is made by wrapping a flat sheet of pastry, cake, meat, or fish around a sweet or savory filling 
    • “Salmon and rice rolls.”
  • A movement in which someone or something turns or is turned over on itself 
    • “She used her momentum to tuck into a roll.”
  • A prolonged, deep, reverberating sound 
    • “Thunder exploded, roll after roll.”
  • A very small loaf of bread, to be eaten by one person
    • “Soup with a roll.”
  • An official list or register of names
    • “The school didn’t have him on their roll.”
  • A roller for flattening something, especially one used to shape metal in a rolling mill

Synonyms of ‘Roll’

  • Spin
  • Rotate
  • Tube
  • Scroll
  • Revolve
  • Loaf

Antonyms of ‘Roll’

  • Stop
  • Halt
  • Straighten
  • Untwist
  • Flatten
  • Flatbread

Phrases with ‘Roll’

  • Dinner roll
  • Sushi roll
  • On a roll
  • Roll an ankle
  • Rolling in money

Definition of ‘Hand Roll’: What Does it Mean?

According to the Collins Dictionary, ‘Hand Roll’ is a noun that means:

  • A Japanese dish consisting of a large cone of dried seaweed filled with cold rice and other ingredients, eaten with fingers rather than chopsticks

‘Hand Rolls,’ which are traditionally known as ‘temaki,’ are sort of the taco version of sushi. A single large cone is made from dried seaweed and then stuffed with various ingredients (like vegetables and fish), which spill out on one side. Note that the shape resembles more that of an ice cream cone than a taco shell. 

The first ‘Hand Roll’ appeared only recently, in 1987, and was introduced by the Japanese Chef Nozawa, who owned a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles. He coined the term and created the first ‘Hand Roll,’ which has since grown in popularity and is now served across the country. 

The word for ‘Hand Roll’ in Japanese is ‘temaki,’ which comes from ‘maki,’ which refers to any type of sushi roll that incorporates nori seaweed, and ‘te,’ which means “hands.”

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Roll’ vs ‘Hand Roll’

Learning how to say words aloud is just as important as understanding what they mean. We want you to be equipped with all the tools necessary to master these new words, so use the pronunciation guides below to solidify the way the words sound. 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Roll’ as a guide:

  • ‘Roh-l’ (the ‘o’ is very round, as in the word “home”)

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Hand Roll’ as a guide:

  • ‘Han-d roh-l’ (the ‘a’ is wide and bright, as in “van”)

How to Use ‘Roll’ vs ‘Hand Roll’ in a Sentence

The final step to mastering new words is being able to use them and identify them in a variety of contexts. Below are some sample sentences to help you navigate the difference in the specifics of ‘Hand Roll’ versus the variety of scenarios where the more general ‘Roll’ may appear. 

‘Roll’ Example Sentences

  • His parents reminded him not to fill up on dinner rolls, so he’d still be hungry when their actual meals arrived. 
  • She decided to roll down the hill like she used to when she was younger, but she ended up getting scraped by a bunch of rocks. 
  • The carpet was packed tightly in a roll to conserve space in the moving van. 
  • The boat pitched and rolled on the waves as a storm made the seas churn. 

‘Hand Roll’ Example Sentences

  • Despite sushi being very ancient and traditional, hand rolls are a more modern take on the classic dish. 
  • He thought the hand rolls looked like little cornucopia, and thought about making them for Thanksgiving as an homage to his Japanese heritage. 
  • Hand rolls can have a variety of stuffings, including raw fish, vegetables, and rice. 

‘Roll’ vs ‘Hand Roll’ Example Sentences

  • Some hand rolls look like cones, while others are rolled into more cylindrical shapes. 
  • Hand rolls are eaten by hand because they are flat and easy to grab, while other sushi is packed into rolls that are easily handled with chopsticks. 

Final Advice on ‘Roll’ vs ‘Hand Roll’

A fun thing about learning new words is we can see how combining words we may already know allows us to expand our vocabulary. Remember, though, to be careful with context, especially when dealing with phrases like ‘Hand Roll’ that have a much more specific meaning. 

Need a recap? Here’s a short overview of what was covered:

  • ‘Roll’ is primarily a verb that means to turn over and over around an axis. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Hand Roll’ is a noun that describes a Japanese sushi dish that is cone-shaped and eaten by hand. 

Want to learn more about how you can get specific with your vocabulary? Be sure to investigate other confusing word articles to learn more. We hope this article has inspired you to go into more detail with your writing and to stop by your local sushi restaurant.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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