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 The 7,231-square-foot estate is outfitted with a number of unparalleled details, including beam, doors and fireplace mantels dating back to the 18th century. Darla Guillen Gilthorpe, Houston Chronicle, "The most expensive Houston homes sold this decade," 30 Dec. 2019 Cedar garland, gold tea lights and clear twinkle lights dress the mantel. oregonlive, "Oregon families celebrate the holidays at home with well-loved traditions," 18 Dec. 2019 The focal point is a working fireplace with the original wood mantel — the home’s only salvageable detail other than the moldings, casings, and floorboards. Marni Elyse Katz,, "A young designer transforms her three-bedroom East Boston fixer-upper," 5 Sep. 2019 The fireplace, mantel, walls, and trim all share the same color for a dramatic look that sets the stage for a cozy Christmas. Chelsea Evers, Country Living, "12 Best Green Paint Colors That'll Liven Up Any Room," 25 Nov. 2019 The old photograph of my grandmother and her family gathered glum-faced on the deck of a ship leaving Lebanon, stared down at me from my grandparents’ mantel throughout my childhood. Claire Calderón,, "Why food is the last holdout in assimilation," 31 Oct. 2019 Interior designers, floral designers and unusually talented amateurs decorate several dozen table settings, mantels, sideboards and small spaces, and every year the mix of imaginative styles and design flourishes is nothing short of astonishing., "Ready? Get set: Table hop with Mar Jennings at Set To Celebrate show," 25 Oct. 2019 There’s another spot for displaying holiday cheer — the fireplace mantel. Kathy Flanigan, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Not just stockings hung with care: Readers share how they decorate mantels for Christmas," 29 Nov. 2019 On the walls hung an eclectic collection of art work, including what looked like a Picasso above the mantel. Charles Bethea, The New Yorker, "SAT Prep for the Über-Rich," 18 Nov. 2019

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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Time Traveler for mantel

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for mantel

Last Updated

20 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Mantel.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 21 January 2020.

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More Definitions for mantel


How to pronounce mantel (audio)

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

Comments on mantel

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