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 masterful (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 Walls, a junior guard, was masterful at controlling tempo and finding open teammates for Valparaiso (19-5), which will play Portage (9-14) in the sectional final at 7 p.m Saturday. Mike Hutton,, "Breece Walls didn’t look 100% in Valparaiso’s sectional opener. But the junior guard played like his old self against Crown Point.," 6 Mar. 2021 To capture his second API in four years and end a 16-month stretch without a victory, McIlroy aims to ride the momentum of a masterful opening round by following Woods’ winning formula. Edgar Thompson,, "Rory McIlroy grabs early lead in quest for 2nd API title, DeChambeau a shot back," 4 Mar. 2021 Smith is known for his detailed tailoring, masterful jackets and suits, and his nod to the classics. Allyson Portee, Forbes, "How Paul Smith’s Autumn–Winter Women’s Collection Is A Remix Of The 70s And A Reinvention For 2021," 3 Mar. 2021 The charismatic Bernstein drew much of the critical acclaim for his skill as an educator and entertainer, creating a masterful blend of insight and dramatic momentum. Washington Post, "Roger Englander, Emmy-winning TV director and producer of classical works, dies at 94," 2 Mar. 2021 Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, two masterful pieces of art, were both helmed by Barry Jenkins. Jennifer Ogunsola, Essence, "Imaginations at Work," 26 Feb. 2021 The masterful filmmaker behind A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and The Fly hasn’t made a film since this 2014 satirical drama, written by Bruce Wagner. Brian Tallerico, Vulture, "The 40 Best Movies on Netflix You Probably Haven’t Seen," 25 Feb. 2021 But Ken Jennings has been masterful as a guest host, and there’s optimism that future guest hosts, including Mayim Bialik and Katie Couric, will add their own special touches. Lauren Hill,, "What we’re watching: ‘Nomadland’ to Queen Latifah’s ‘The Equalizer’ and ‘Outlander’ stars in kilts," 19 Feb. 2021 Once the water is boiling, a masterful dinner comes together in about five minutes. Rick Nelson, Star Tribune, "Twin Cities culinary duo started Aliment Pasta Co. after noodling a pandemic change," 19 Feb. 2021

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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Time Traveler for masterful Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

9 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Masterful.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.

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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 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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