mas·​ter·​ly ˈma-stər-lē How to pronounce masterly (audio)
: suitable to or resembling that of a master
especially : indicating thorough knowledge or superior skill and power
a masterly performance
: having the power and skill of a master
she's masterly at descriptionCaroline Knapp
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 The authors of this concise and masterly introduction to the topic go some way toward filling that gap. Foreign Affairs, 19 Dec. 2019 His accent was unaccented, and his biking around the city was masterly. Hannah Whitaker, The New Yorker, 22 Apr. 2024 His handling of her final moments, ultimately placing her calmly sitting on the edge of the stage, is masterly. David Benedict, Variety, 3 Apr. 2024 The scene offered a preview of how perfectly Tennant’s Doctor would embody the duality of this hero through his three-plus seasons in the TARDIS — a masterly balance of stillness and chatter, heft and levity. Maya Phillips, New York Times, 29 Dec. 2023 See all Example Sentences for masterly 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'masterly.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near masterly

Cite this Entry

“Masterly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


mas·​ter·​ly ˈmas-tər-lē How to pronounce masterly (audio)
: suitable to or resembling a master especially in superior knowledge or skill
masterly adverb

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