mas·​ter·​ful | \ˈmas-tər-fəl \

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 \ -​fə-​lē \ 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

The masterful performance ended on a high note, as several children were spotted onstage meditating before jumping into an impressive dance routine. Carl Lamarre, Billboard, "7 Best Moments From the 2018 BET Awards," 25 June 2018 For Democrats, much of the energy is directed toward Ms. Pelosi, who has led the caucus for more than 15 years and developed a reputation as a masterful legislator and fund-raiser. Nicholas Fandos, New York Times, "Republicans and Democrats Face Leadership Struggles as House Returns," 8 July 2018 The Phils' offseason return from San Diego for shortstop Freddy Galvis has been masterful at Class AAA -- pitching to a 1.89 ERA in 16 starts and 95 1/3 innings. Steve Gardner, USA TODAY, "Fantasy baseball waiver wire: Pitchers to stash before the All-Star break," 13 July 2018 Finally, drug companies are masterful at distracting viewers from the lengthy list of risks and side effects that is already required by the Food and Drug Administration. Katie Thomas, New York Times, "6 Takeaways From Trump’s Plans to Try to Lower Drug Prices," 11 May 2018 With two outs, seven straight Reds hitters reached base to waste Bauer’s masterful performance. Bobby Nightengale,, "Cincinnati Reds score 7 runs in the 9th inning, stun Cleveland Indians for comeback win," 10 July 2018 As news outlets feverishly scurried to the Wells Fargo Center, where Meek was slated to be for the Sixers' playoff game, the team's co-owner, Michael Rubin, was frantically piecing together a masterful plan to pick up his close friend from jail. Carl Lamarre, Billboard, "76ers Co-Owner Michael Rubin Talks Picking Up Meek Mill From Jail & Their Plan to Aid Prison Reform," 26 Apr. 2018 But Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry credited assistant Darren Erman with the masterful plan he's devised to fluster one of the league's most dynamic point guards. William Guillory,, "How defensive improvement has transformed Pelicans into a contender," 20 Apr. 2018 Easier said than done, from a masterful actor giving another fine performance. Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "American Players Theatre's comedy 'As You Like It' makes every word count," 19 June 2018

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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Last Updated

10 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for masterful

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

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More Definitions for masterful



English Language Learners Definition of masterful

: able to take control of people or situations

: very skillful


mas·​ter·​ful | \ˈma-stər-fəl \

Kids Definition of masterful

1 : tending to take control : displaying authority

2 : having or showing great skill a masterful sailor

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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

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playful or foolish behavior

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