mas·​ter·​ful | \ ˈma-stər-fəl How to pronounce masterful (audio) \

Definition of masterful

1a : inclined and usually competent to act as master
b : suggestive of a domineering nature
2 : having or reflecting the power and skill of a master

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from masterful

masterfully \ ˈma-​stər-​fə-​lē How to pronounce masterfully (audio) \ adverb
masterfulness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for masterful

masterful, domineering, imperious, peremptory, imperative mean tending to impose one's will on others. masterful implies a strong personality and ability to act authoritatively. her masterful personality soon dominated the movement domineering suggests an overbearing or arbitrary manner and an obstinate determination to enforce one's will. children controlled by domineering parents imperious implies a commanding nature or manner and often suggests arrogant assurance. an imperious executive used to getting his own way peremptory implies an abrupt dictatorial manner coupled with an unwillingness to brook disobedience or dissent. given a peremptory dismissal imperative implies peremptoriness arising more from the urgency of the situation than from an inherent will to dominate. an imperative appeal for assistance

Masterful vs. Masterly: Usage Guide

Some commentators insist that use of masterful should be limited to its early "domineering" sense in order to preserve a distinction between it and masterly. The distinction is a modern one, excogitated by a 20th century pundit in disregard of the history of the word. Both words developed in a parallel manner but the earlier sense of masterly, equivalent to the "domineering" sense of masterful, dropped out of use. Since masterly had but one sense, the pundit opined that it would be tidy if masterful were likewise limited to one sense and he forthwith condemned use of masterful to mean "having mastery" as an error. This later sense of masterful, which is slightly older than the sense of masterly intended to replace it, has continued in reputable use all along; it cannot rationally be called an error.

Did You Know?

Some commentators insist that masterful must only mean "domineering," reserving the "expert, skillful" sense for masterly. The distinction is a modern one. In earlier times, the terms were used interchangeably, with each having both the "domineering" and "expert" senses. The "domineering" sense of masterly fell into disuse around the 18th century, however, and in the 20th century the famous grammarian H. W. Fowler decided that masterful should be similarly limited to a single meaning. He summarily ruled that the "expert" definition of masterful was incorrect. Other usage writers followed his lead. But the "expert" meaning of masterful has continued to flourish in standard prose in spite of the disapproval, and, considering the sense's long history, it cannot really be called an error.

Examples of masterful in a Sentence

His manner was masterful and abrupt. a masterful work of art He did a masterful job of staying out of trouble.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web Her second recording was masterful, her colleagues said. Erin Richards, USA TODAY, "No online learning? With schools closed from coronavirus, these teachers air TV lessons," 29 Mar. 2020 The Jim Dale version is a MUST (his Dumbledore impression is masterful) and Audible, which has all the books available to download, offers a 30-day free trial. Rachel Epstein, Marie Claire, "Things to Do When You're Bored During Social Distancing," 25 Mar. 2020 The pacing is masterful, and it's helped by each actor applying a delicate touch to the awkwardness of being a teen—while also nailing some serious comedic timing. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "Onward film review: Pixar rolls a 20, nails homage to D&D-styled adventure," 6 Mar. 2020 Substituting measly chocolate chips for the far more powerful M&Ms is masterful. Scottie Andrew, CNN, "The best cookies you can buy in a store, ranked," 4 Dec. 2019 Implied in those statements is a belief that their guy will be masterful by the time Jackson-Mahomes III rolls around. Childs Walker,, "Five Things We Learned from the Ravens’ 33-28 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs," 23 Sep. 2019 Talty also did a masterful job of managing our NFL draft coverage, again bringing the most important stories to our audience while Matt Scalici managed our sports video and social media efforts. Izzy Gould |, al, "Subscribe to support our sports reporters, who chronicle championships and now a pandemic," 7 May 2020 The 78-year-old Jenkins has been a masterful teacher. Jon Blau, Indianapolis Star, "IU football: New defensive line coach Kevin Peoples represents impressive coaching tree," 6 May 2020 So this is actually a great opportunity to get a bowl of chef-owner Justin Holt’s masterful ramen in your hands for $17. Amanda Albee, Dallas News, "Make ramen, pizza, sushi and sourdough with fun meal kits from Dallas restaurants," 1 May 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'masterful.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of masterful

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about masterful

Time Traveler for masterful

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for masterful

Last Updated

25 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Masterful.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for masterful


How to pronounce masterful (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of masterful

: able to take control of people or situations
: very skillful


mas·​ter·​ful | \ ˈma-stər-fəl How to pronounce masterful (audio) \

Kids Definition of masterful

1 : tending to take control : displaying authority
2 : having or showing great skill a masterful sailor

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on masterful

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for masterful

Spanish Central: Translation of masterful

Nglish: Translation of masterful for Spanish Speakers

Comments on masterful

What made you want to look up masterful? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

May 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a blooming wisteria tree
  • Which is a synonym of exiguous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!