man·​tel | \ ˈman-tᵊl How to pronounce mantel (audio) \

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

Keep scrolling for more

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 comfortably elegant family room with a box ceiling has a fireplace made of stacked stone imported from China and a white mantel. Joan Walden,, "Property of the Week: 3 Erica Lane, West Simsbury," 20 July 2017 All the door heights were raised to the same level, mantels were stripped of excess molding, and the wide plank floors were painted the color of fresh milk. Kathleen Renda, House Beautiful, "How Liliane Hart Brought Hygge To The Hamptons," 13 Dec. 2018 Add homespun chic to your front door or mantel with this rough-hewn bootie. Good Housekeeping, "Christmas Crafts: Homemade Stockings," 4 Nov. 2010 The chandeliers are by Lindsey Adelman, the rug is by Fort Street Studio, and Murat designed the Calacatta marble mantel. Leslie Camhi, ELLE Decor, "Tour the Sanctuary-Like Tribeca Duplex of Designer Beth Bugdaycay," 22 Aug. 2018 Of note are the groin vault ceilings, delicate wainscoting and elaborate fireplace mantels. Neal J. Leitereg,, "Actress-writer Renée Taylor seeks $8.6 million for Beverly Hills home with exotic gardens," 28 Apr. 2018 Come January, Christmas cards usually go straight from the mantel to the trash, but not all season's greetings count as clutter. Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, "Your Old Christmas Cards Might Be Worth Serious Money," 16 Nov. 2018 Surviving glass traps from the earlier era are mostly relegated to the collector scene, more likely to decorate a cottage mantel than to be used as designed. C.j. Chivers, Popular Mechanics, "Meet the Man Glassblowing These Gorgeous Retro Fishing Lures," 26 Apr. 2016 Placing amethyst on a mantel, or centrally in a home, allows the crystal to cleanse as much of the space as possible. Alyssa Nassner, Curbed, "Cleansing 101: Keeping your home’s energy in check," 17 Oct. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about mantel

Statistics for mantel

Last Updated

31 Mar 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for mantel

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for mantel



English Language Learners Definition of mantel

chiefly US : the shelf above a fireplace


man·​tel | \ ˈman-tᵊl How to pronounce mantel (audio) \

Kids Definition of mantel

: a shelf above a fireplace

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on mantel

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with mantel

Spanish Central: Translation of mantel

Nglish: Translation of mantel for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about mantel

Comments on mantel

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


to move or proceed with twists and turns

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Latin Quiz

  • roman forum
  • Which of the following months comes from a Latin word for “ten”?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!