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He was empty-handed.

Is it suitable if I change this sentence into

His hands were empty.

In my point of view, the second sentence cannot describe "his unsuccessful task".Because "empty-handed" means "without getting what you hope".

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    You're correct, the second sentence isn't always a replacement for the first. "Empty-handed" can be used either literally or idiomatically, and the rephrased sentence only covers the literal interpretations.
    – PMV
    Commented May 24, 2017 at 0:23
  • What about bare-handed? Commented May 24, 2017 at 6:21

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In some situations the example above is a suitable substitute. There is however, some nuance of meaning. So the answer is: it depends on the context and the meaning you want to convey.

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