man·​tel ˈman-tᵊl How to pronounce mantel (audio)
: a beam, stone, or arch serving as a lintel to support the masonry above a fireplace
: the finish around a fireplace
: 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 Line your mantel with all-time Christmas classics, like gingerbread houses, nutcrackers, and ceramic Christmas trees. Sophie Flaxman, Better Homes & Gardens, 14 Sep. 2023 Enjoy! Scalloped Edge Pumpkins Create a unique display on your mantel or tabletop by carving out scalloped edges on your pumpkins. Amanda Garrity, Good Housekeeping, 25 Aug. 2023 Read on for brilliant holiday hacks to add some sparkle to your small space, from ceiling centerpieces to alternative mantels. Rachel Silva, ELLE Decor, 18 Aug. 2023 The fabric panel was affixed from the back; in the corners where the mantel and plywood meet, one end of a small piece of wood was nailed to the mantel and the other end was attached to the plywood. Southern Living Editors, Southern Living, 2 Aug. 2023 Ex-Yalie Alex Lyon delivered big time for the Panthers down the stretch of 2022-23, prior to veteran Sergei Bobrovsky finally resuming his No. 1 mantel in the playoffs. Kevin Paul Dupont,, 2 Sep. 2023 Invite holiday cheer instantly into your home by placing the display next to your fireplace mantel or front entrance. Andie Kanaras, Southern Living, 1 Sep. 2023 The green monochrome approach prevents the room from looking busy while the distressed fireplace mantel treatment and rich velvets warm it up. Hadley Mendelsohn, House Beautiful, 31 Aug. 2023 And some designers have set soundbars inside faux fireplace mantels, no longer worrying about heat issues. Caron Golden, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'mantel.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French, mantle

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near mantel

Cite this Entry

“Mantel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


man·​tel ˈmant-ᵊl How to pronounce mantel (audio)
: the beam, stone, arch, or shelf above a fireplace

More from Merriam-Webster on mantel

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