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

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 The three masterly Mozart piano works are performed live by celebrated Israeli-American pianist Inon Barnatan and the Berkeley Symphony conducted by Colin Fowler. Andrew Gilbert, The Mercury News, "Fall dance 2019: Legendary works on tap in Bay Area," 6 Sep. 2019 The result, though, is a masterly portrait of a titanic yet unfulfilled man. The Economist, "A life of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father," 22 Aug. 2019 This is a masterly portrait that can be read as a critique of family life, the treatment of children and the psychic consequences of different forms of upbringing. Rachel Cusk, The New Yorker, "Françoise Sagan, the Great Interrogator of Morality," 21 Aug. 2019 In keeping with its title, the masterly final novel by Drndić, who died last year, suggests a brain scan of its narrator, a dying author and psychologist. Sam Knight, The New Yorker, "Briefly Noted," 12 Aug. 2019 His previous book was a masterly study of the American empires of Britain and Spain. The Economist, "The siren call of separatism," 12 July 2018 Yet everything old seems new, starting not only with the stars, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, but with Mr. Cooper’s masterly direction of a genuinely big production. Joe Morgenstern, WSJ, "The Best Film of 2018: Love in Many Forms," 17 Dec. 2018 The novella has long been accounted the most masterly of his shorter fictions, largely because of its fusion of psychological realism and poetic atmosphere. Dan Hofstadter, WSJ, "Longing, Violence and Social Rank," 25 May 2018

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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Statistics for masterly

Last Updated

30 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for masterly

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

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More Definitions for masterly



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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