masterful

adjective
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

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 The free-flowing, maxi skirt benefited from Beckham’s masterful, minimal touch and featured a contrasting waistband for an elevated twist. Edward Barsamian, Vogue, "Victoria Beckham Gets a Head Start on Head-to-Toe White," 5 July 2018 The whole thing is hilarious, masterful, a classic. Joe Fassler, The Atlantic, "What Richard Pryor’s Stand-Up Can Teach Writers," 31 May 2018 In between his slow rollout and Golden State’s careless close, Curry was masterful. Ben Golliver, SI.com, "Stephen Curry Returns in Spectacular Fashion, But He’s Just Getting Started," 2 May 2018 Just really masterful, vibrant, enchanting pop musicians. Samuel Hine, GQ, "Damon McMahon of Amen Dunes Just Released the Best Album of 2018 (So Far)," 30 Mar. 2018 However, his use of social media has been masterful, if unconventional. Justin Vaughn, Washington Post, "We asked experts to grade Trump’s first year as a president. Here’s what they said.," 19 Jan. 2018 The second collaboration between Anderson and Day-Lewis is a masterful, gorgeous and provocative work of art. Laura Demarco, cleveland.com, "'Phantom Thread': Daniel Day-Lewis' final film is a stylish masterpiece (review)," 17 Jan. 2018 Culinary connoisseurs travel from across the U.S. to plunk themselves down on spinning stools in a converted Fountain Square garage and commend their morning into Milktooth chef Jonathan Brooks’s masterful hands. Sarah Bahr, Indianapolis Star, "Ultimate Indiana bucket list: 50+ things to do in Indianapolis and around the state," 11 July 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

18 Aug 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

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 \

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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