man·tel | \ˈman-tᵊl \

Definition of mantel 

1a : a beam, stone, or arch serving as a lintel to support the masonry above a fireplace

b : the finish around a fireplace

2 : a shelf above a fireplace

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Mantle vs. Mantel

Keeping mantel and mantle straight is relatively simple.

Mantel in modern English largely does one job: it refers to the shelf above a fireplace. You can remember it by thinking of the "el" in both mantel and shelf.

Mantle on the other hand, does many jobs, including a number that are technical or scientific. Its most common uses are to refer to a literal cloak, mostly of the kind worn in days of yore ("she drew her mantle tighter"), and to a figurative cloak symbolizing authority or importance ("taking on the mantle of the museum's directorship"). It also refers to a general covering in literary uses like "wet earth covered in a mantle of leaves" or "a past shrouded in a mantle of secrecy." And it's also the term for the middle layer of the Earth between the crust and the inner core.

There is, however, a catch to these distinctions: mantle is sometimes used (especially in American English) to refer to the shelf above a fireplace as well—that is, as a synonym of mantel.

This isn't terribly surprising, given the histories of the words. They both derive from the Latin word mantellum, which refers both to a cloak and to a beam or stone supporting the masonry above a fireplace. The words came into use in English a couple centuries apart, but were for a time in the past nothing more than spelling variants.

While it's certainly simpler to use mantle in all cases, mantel is significantly more common as the choice for the shelf, which means it's the safer choice in those cases.

Examples of mantel in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

The main entry, on the ground level, opens to a drawing room anchored by a fireplace with a decorative wood mantel. Vivian Marino, New York Times, "House Hunting in … England," 13 June 2018 Its stone fireplace with a wooden mantel is flanked by two sets of large windows with western views. Carol Riordan,, "Property of the Week: 59 Papermill Road, Glastonbury," 28 Dec. 2017 These were very popular for mantel displays, with the brass clock adding a practical touch. Brenda Yenke,, "Welcome March with the Bay Village Antique Show: Yenke Peddler antiques column," 10 Jan. 2018 The 11,821 square feet of living space was designed by former White House decorator Michael Smith and features reclaimed fireplace mantels, hand-hewn hardwood floors and custom ironwork. Jack Flemming,, "Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer pulls in $11.5 million for Brentwood estate," 16 June 2018 The 33-feet-by-14-feet family room on the first floor has wide floorboards and an imposing fireplace with a concrete mantel and marble surround. Joan Walden,, "Property of the Week: 22 Pasture Lane, West Simsbury," 18 May 2017 Elite companies like Amazon and Google may be shamed out of contributing to our dystopia, but the result may simply be a glitchier Big Brother from a second-rate company willing to shoulder the mantel. Maya Kosoff, The Hive, "Amazon Workers to Jeff Bezos: Stop Weaponizing Our Tech," 22 June 2018 But this is the tip of the iceberg: The online-only home goods retailer, the largest of its kind, sells more than 10 million items, from beds and coffee tables to chicken coops and fireplace mantels. Emma Alpern, Curbed, "The most unusual finds on Wayfair," 2 May 2018 Sitting on the living room mantel is a frame with two portraits of Greg Kenney. Yvonne Wenger,, ""Red Shoe Shuffle" draws thousands, raises money for a new Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore," 8 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mantel.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of mantel

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for mantel

Middle English, from Anglo-French, mantle

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Learn More about mantel

Statistics for mantel

Last Updated

29 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for mantel

The first known use of mantel was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for mantel



English Language Learners Definition of mantel

: the shelf above a fireplace


man·tel | \ˈman-tᵊl \

Kids Definition of mantel

: a shelf above a fireplace

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Comments on mantel

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