mas·​ter·​ly | \ ˈma-stər-lē How to pronounce masterly (audio) \

Definition of masterly

1 : suitable to or resembling that of a master especially : indicating thorough knowledge or superior skill and power a masterly performance
2 : having the power and skill of a master she's masterly at description— Caroline Knapp

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Other Words from masterly

masterliness noun
masterly adverb

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.

Examples of masterly in a Sentence

She did a masterly job of organizing the conference. a masterly performance of one of the most difficult ballets in the repertory
Recent Examples on the Web In the meantime, there are ways to view Balanchine’s masterly two-act, six-scene ballet, to the music of Felix Mendelssohn, on the home screen, some just a click away. Robert Greskovic, WSJ, "The Staying Inside Guide: A ‘Dream,’ a ‘Lake’—an Escape," 31 Mar. 2020 The rise and fall of Lehman Brothers, the august investment bank that came tumbling down in the economic disaster of 2008, became an epic tale of ambition and overreach in this masterly, 3 1/2-hour staging by director Sam Mendes. Peter Marks, Washington Post, "Out of dozens and dozens of plays and musicals, these deserved the hottest spotlight," 10 Dec. 2019 Indeed, Jason Koons’s masterly rendering of a coiled rope could be taken for a woodcut. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, "In the galleries: At American University Museum, a world of atmosphere," 28 Nov. 2019 The top-flight cinematographer Yorick Le Saux chases after the swirl of activity with a masterly eye for natural light, or light faked to look that way. Michael Phillips,, "‘Little Women’ review: 4 stars for Greta Gerwig’s terrific version of the classic," 26 Nov. 2019 Broom does a masterly job of situating each of her family members as Katrina looms on the horizon. Dwight Garner, New York Times, "‘The Yellow House’ Is a Major Memoir About a Large Family and Its Beloved Home," 5 Aug. 2019 The transformation is hilarious, a small bit of masterly musical wit. Rand Richards Cooper,, "In Our Midst: Gabriel Wheaton’s classical, contemporary, opulent and wildly eclectic one-man band," 15 Nov. 2019 At her best, Ms. Gentry was a masterly writer and singer of slow songs delivered in a gentle, dry voice. Marc Myers, WSJ, "‘Bobbie Gentry: The Girl From Chickasaw County—The Complete Capitol Masters’ Review: A Country Talent, Fully Recognized," 25 Sep. 2018 Consider the masterly performance of Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, after he was recorded scurrying out of a meeting with angry constituents in his Northern California district, escorted by police. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, "Column: Justice Gorsuch calls for ‘civility,’ always a code for shutting down free speech," 13 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'masterly.' 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 masterly

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for masterly

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

12 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Masterly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for masterly


How to pronounce masterly (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of masterly

: showing great skill : very skillful


mas·​ter·​ly | \ ˈma-stər-lē How to pronounce masterly (audio) \

Kids Definition of masterly

: showing exceptional knowledge or skill a masterly performance

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More from Merriam-Webster on masterly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for masterly

Spanish Central: Translation of masterly

Nglish: Translation of masterly for Spanish Speakers

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