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 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

Ebert is masterful in his dual roles, especially his Master, whose disarming courtliness masks something much darker. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Pass Over': Theater Review," 19 June 2018 The shifting tones, colors, rhythms and rapid-fire images used to drive the narrative of bad-before/great-now are masterful. David Zurawik, baltimoresun.com, "Rating the TV ads for governor: Hogan has a winner, Baker's a loser with his Baltimore pitch," 7 June 2018 The building of tension in cramped quarters, whether in a dank basement or a grain silo, is masterful. Justin Chang, latimes.com, "Shut up and spread the word: 'A Quiet Place' is a thrillingly intelligent monster movie," 5 Apr. 2018 In the hands of a less masterful writer, this device could have come across more caricature, but McEwan delivers a modern-day version of Hamlet's metaphysical musings. Liz Matthews, Town & Country, "Ian McEwan's 'Nutshell' is a Modern-Day 'Hamlet'," 28 Sep. 2016 But Claire Foy did masterful work on Seasons 1 and 2 of The Crown and deserved top prize before handing the baton to Olivia Colman and co. Julie Kosin, Harper's BAZAAR, "10 Important Moments You May Have Missed from the 2018 Emmys," 18 Sep. 2018 And while Brooks is masterful in each and every number, a show about divas could have employed at least one female vocalist. Lauren Warnecke, chicagotribune.com, "Tap Theatre’s fun diva spectacle needs rehearsal, and maybe a diva," 24 June 2018 Yale was masterful in hushing Duke freshman midfielder Nakeie Montgomery, who had exceeded his regular-season goal total with 8 in three tournament games. Owen Pence, BostonGlobe.com, "Yale captures men’s lacrosse championship," 28 May 2018 Most importantly, the new show’s myth-building is masterful. Patricia Hernandez, The Verge, "The Dragon Prince is influenced by Avatar: The Last Airbender in the best ways," 7 Sep. 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

23 Apr 2019

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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 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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