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

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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

All the fireplace mantels, medical cupboards and wood trim have been refurbished. Inga Saffron,, "This building on the Delaware River saved immigrant lives for 95 years. Now it’s been rescued by Tinicum Twp. | Inga Saffron," 4 June 2019 Despite adding new systems and fixtures, original details include crown moldings, antique fireplace mantels, and wide plank flooring. Megan Barber, Curbed, "Picture-perfect 1880 estate on 60 acres asks $3.9M," 20 Dec. 2018 These mirrors can be used anywhere—over a mantel, in an entry, a bedroom. Elizabeth Pash, House Beautiful, "What to Look for When Shopping for Louis Philippe Mirrors," 10 May 2019 An assortment of hand blown vases by William Gudenrath are displayed on the master bedroom’s original mantel. Nancy Hass, ELLE Decor, "Lindsey Adelman's Park Slope Home Doubles as a Constantly Revolving Showcase," 27 Apr. 2018 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

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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Statistics for mantel

Last Updated

9 Jun 2019

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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

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

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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

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