The rich variety of human upper limb movements requires an extraordinary coordination of different joints according to specific spatio-temporal patterns. However, unvealing these motor schemes is a challenging task. Principal components have been often used for analogous purposes, but such an approach relies on hypothesis of temporal uncorrelation of upper limb poses in time. To overcome these limitations, in this work, we leverage on functional principal component analysis (fPCA). We carried out experiments with 7 subjects performing a set of most significant human actions, selected considering state-of-the-art grasp taxonomies and human kinematic workspace. fPCA results show that human upper limb trajectories can be reconstructed by a linear combination of few principal time-dependent functions, with a first component alone explaining around 60/70% of the observed behaviors. This allows to infer that in daily living activities humans reduce the complexity of movement by modulating their motions through a reduced set of few principal patterns. Finally, we discuss how this approach could be profitably applied in robotics and bioengineering, opening fascinating perspectives to advance the state of the art of artificial systems, as it was the case of hand synergies.