Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


noun met·tle \ˈme-təl\

Simple Definition of mettle

  • : strength of spirit : ability to continue despite difficulties

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of mettle

  1. 1 a :  vigor and strength of spirit or temperament b :  staying quality :  stamina <equipment that proved its mettle>

  2. 2 :  quality of temperament or disposition <gentlemen of brave mettle — Shakespeare>


play \-təld\ adjective

on one's mettle

  1. :  aroused to do one's best

Examples of mettle in a sentence

  1. The competition will test her mettle.

Did You Know?

Originally, "mettle" was simply a variant spelling of the word metal (which dates to at least the 14th century), and it was used in all of the same senses as its metallic relative. Over time, however, "mettle" came to be used mainly in figurative senses referring to the quality of someone's character. It eventually became a distinct English word in its own right, losing its literal sense altogether. "Metal" remained a term primarily used for those hard shiny substances such as steel or iron, but it also acquired a figurative use. Today, both words can mean "vigor and strength of spirit or temperament," but only "metal" is used of metallic substances.

Origin and Etymology of mettle

alteration of metal

First Known Use: 1581

Synonym Discussion of mettle

courage, mettle, spirit, resolution, tenacity mean mental or moral strength to resist opposition, danger, or hardship. courage implies firmness of mind and will in the face of danger or extreme difficulty <the courage to support unpopular causes>. mettle suggests an ingrained capacity for meeting strain or difficulty with fortitude and resilience <a challenge that will test your mettle>. spirit also suggests a quality of temperament enabling one to hold one's own or keep up one's morale when opposed or threatened <her spirit was unbroken by failure>. resolution stresses firm determination to achieve one's ends <the resolution of pioneer women>. tenacity adds to resolution implications of stubborn persistence and unwillingness to admit defeat <held to their beliefs with great tenacity>.

METTLE Defined for Kids


noun met·tle \ˈme-təl\

Definition of mettle for Students

  1. :  strength of spirit :  courage <The competition will test her mettle.>

Learn More about mettle

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up mettle? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


of or relating to the heavens

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which is a synonym of asperse?

defame beat placate divulge
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.