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

My one lasting imposition on the helpless cupboards and mantels of my pals is porcelain. Sally Singer, Vogue, "10 Holiday Gifts That Dazzle, Then Largely Disappear," 29 Nov. 2018 Set the scene for the season with Christmas centerpieces, figurines for the mantel, and more. Taysha Murtaugh, Country Living, "Here's Your First Look at The Home Depot's Best New Christmas Decorations," 14 Oct. 2018 Civil rights advocates like Edelman took up the mantel and serve as models for today's activists. Fox News, "Social justice movement veterans help Poor People's Campaign," 25 Aug. 2018 An omnipotent Apollo scowls over the mantel; a hungover Bacchus sleeps off a bender in a bedroom downstairs. James Mcauley, Town & Country, "The Tragic, Fascinating History of Santo Sospir," 13 Aug. 2018 Three of these doors — including the formal front entrance — open to a living room with a high ceiling, hardwood floors and a tiled gas fireplace with an original plaster frieze over the mantel believed to depict the harvest. Julie Lasky, New York Times, "$800,000 Homes in Missouri, Georgia and Pennsylvania," 16 May 2018 The 1960s Italian table in the family room is from Gaspare Asaro, the vintage Harry Østergaard chairs are from House of Blu, and the ceramic sculpture on the mantel is by Marcello Fantoni. Elle Decor Editors, ELLE Decor, "Inside a Traditional Prewar Apartment with Unique, Handmade Accents," 13 Sep. 2018 The beautifully proportioned 18-by-14-foot dining room features trim and molding that extend to the dentil molding on the fireplace mantel. Joan Walden,, "59 Lord Davis Lane, Avon," 8 Mar. 2018 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

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

8 Dec 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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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

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to make faulty or ineffective

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