masterful was our Word of the Day on 05/02/2015. Hear the podcast!
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masterful vs. masterly
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.
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.
Recent Examples of masterful from the Web
LSU, led by Ed Orgeron and Tommie Robinson, did a masterful job in capturing the excitement of the moment and capitalizing on it.
Come for the hyper-specific 1-percenter jokes; stay for Abby Elliott’s masterful performance as the ultimate Upper East Side monster.
Your emcee the masterful Scotty B, and your exceptional photographers/videographers Kristin Alexander and Charles Cardwell.
Fisher was masterful at signature guitar flourishes in Heart songs that were just as infectious as singer Ann Wilson's Valkyrie vocals and guitarist Nancy Wilson's charismatic, propulsive figures.
But this is a boxing match, and Mayweather is a masterful boxer.
This was a masterful pivot from an unfavorable subject to a better one.
Wawrinka simply didn’t have a chance against a masterful performance on the clay by the best player to grace the surface.
Under the masterful guidance of founder and musical director Kent Barnhart, Quality Hill Playhouse is Kansas City’s foremost cabaret.
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.
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.
First Known Use of masterful
Synonym Discussion of masterful
MASTERFUL Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of masterful for English Language Learners
: able to take control of people or situations
: very skillful
MASTERFUL Defined for Kids
Definition of masterful for Students
1 : tending to take control : displaying authority
2 : having or showing great skill a masterful sailor
Seen and Heard
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