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

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 first floor features a large living room adorned by Roman shades and a natural gas fireplace decorated by a tile surround and a mantel. Karen A. Avitabile,, 5 Apr. 2022 The result will be a mantel that looks layered and all your own. Hannah Baker, Better Homes & Gardens, 10 Dec. 2021 For the mommy-and-me moment, Williams and her little one pose in front of a fireplace, with Olympia sitting on the mantel while her mom stands in front of her. Georgia Slater,, 19 Apr. 2022 The store, with its 18th-century French mantel, wood paneling and Doric columns, became a favorite of antiquarian book lovers. New York Times, 26 Mar. 2022 At their house in Maryland, a pair of red matryoshka dolls, or nesting dolls, stand alongside a framed photo of her boys on their fireplace mantel. Washington Post, 24 Mar. 2022 Add it to your mantel with greenery or pampas grass to finish the look. Better Homes & Gardens, 25 Feb. 2022 Bill Pagel takes a small vase off the mantel and shows me the crack across the bottom and how it’s been glued back together. Washington Post, 18 Apr. 2022 The seven-inch-tall statue had long sat unnoticed on the fireplace mantel of John Hastings, a farmer in Wiltshire, about 90 miles west of London. David Kindy, Smithsonian Magazine, 31 Jan. 2022 See More

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.

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

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Last Updated

14 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Mantel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for mantel


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

Kids Definition of mantel

: a shelf above a fireplace

More from Merriam-Webster on mantel

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


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