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 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.
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Recent Examples on the Web The cardboard cutouts were treated, however, to some masterful pitching, on both sides. Susan Slusser,, "A’s, down to final out, overcome hitting blahs to beat Astros in 13th inning," 7 Aug. 2020 Swan's masterful command of the facts, coupled with his wit, allowed him to immediately — and confidently — drill Trump on even his most basic assertions. Oliver Darcy, CNN, "Analysis: One big reason it was so enraging to watch Trump's interview with Axios," 4 Aug. 2020 Lawrence is neither the best athlete nor a physical marvel (6-3, 265 pounds with 33 3/4-inch arms), but his consistency comes from incredible body control, high-level football intelligence and masterful technique. John Owning, Dallas News, "Film room: 3 Cowboys left out of this year’s NFL Top 100 who could make it in 2021, including a potential first-timer," 31 July 2020 Gardenhire originally held him out of the lineup for Monday's home opener with a sore back from the masterful catch, but Jones had other ideas. Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Tigers' JaCoby Jones was angry. So he made the Royals pay," 30 July 2020 Kyle Freeland was masterful on the mound and Raimel Tapia hit a grand slam as the Rockies beat the Braves, 7-2, on Sunday at Coors Field. Joe Nguyen, The Denver Post, "MLB The Show 20 simulation: Kyle Freeland, Colorado shut down Atlanta," 19 July 2020 But for many, fly-fishing is appealing because of its simplicity and the masterful in-water casting techniques that connect anglers with nature. Washington Post, "Casting about for a pandemic-friendly pastime? Eight reasons to consider fly-fishing.," 7 July 2020 With a cool orange polish and one single nail painted with gold overlays, this masterful art piece is for the minimalist family member. Emy Rodriguez Flores, Redbook, "The Best Nail Art for Thanksgiving," 18 Nov. 2019 The Colts would win the next week, 38-31 in Kansas City, behind another masterful Manning performance: 22-of-30, 304 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions. Nat Newell, The Indianapolis Star, "Ranking every Indianapolis Colts team: Nos. 1-5, Peyton Manning's best," 12 July 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.

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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

11 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Masterful.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.

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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

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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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