masterful

adjective
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

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Other Words from masterful

masterfully \ ˈma-​stər-​fə-​lē How to pronounce masterful (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.
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Recent Examples on the Web So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. Doug Ferguson, San Francisco Chronicle, "Hideki Matsuyama becomes first man from Japan to win golf major," 11 Apr. 2021 So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. Doug Ferguson, courant.com, "Matsuyama holds on to become first from Japan to win Masters," 11 Apr. 2021 So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Hideki Matsuyama becomes first Japanese in Masters green jacket," 11 Apr. 2021 Columbus was masterful at this against Dallas, even if its picks warranted interference penalties. Matthew Defranks, Dallas News, "Why are the Dallas Stars struggling so much in overtime this season? Analyzing the factors," 1 Apr. 2021 American Jason Brown, who doesn’t have the bigger jumps to match the medalists but is masterful at artistry, finished seventh. BostonGlobe.com, "Nathan Chen wins third straight world men’s figure skating title," 27 Mar. 2021 Its defensive rating of 108.8 ranks sixth; the biggest reason being Draymond Green, who has been masterful at organizing his teammates and ratcheting up the intensity. Connor Letourneau, San Francisco Chronicle, "What we learned from the first half of the Warriors' season," 9 Mar. 2021 Just this past month, Microsoft’s PR was masterful in getting ahead of the media cycle surrounding recent Teams vulnerabilities, going so far as to push responsibility to the government. Joel Wallenstrom, Forbes, "The Consequences Of Choosing Speed Over Security," 26 Feb. 2021 The two chambers were controlled respectively by a masterful vote-whipper and a deft broker of compromise. Jake Bittle, The New Republic, "The Nail-Biting Story of Obamacare," 26 Mar. 2021

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.

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First Known Use of masterful

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

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

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Last Updated

26 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Masterful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/masterful. Accessed 7 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for masterful

masterful

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of masterful

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

masterful

adjective
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

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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for masterful

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