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.

Example Sentences

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 María Kodama, a writer and translator who was best known for guarding the legacy of her husband, the masterly Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, died on March 26 in the Buenos Aires suburb of Vincente López. Neil Genzlinger, New York Times, 9 Apr. 2023 The Lightning’s flair for developing their young players has replenished their talent base, and their masterly manipulation of the salary cap has preserved much of the core that lost in the finals to Chicago in 2015, a core that has transformed and evolved, in style and spirit and personnel. New York Times, 7 July 2021 Through her masterly use of evasive language and negative space, Kim whimsically exhorts us to connect. New York Times, 16 Sep. 2022 Tim McInnerny delivers a masterly narration, finely tuned to the personality and convictions of each character. Katherine A. Powers, Washington Post, 17 Nov. 2022 Veteran actor Tim McInnerny delivers a masterly narration of Harris’s novel. Katherine A. Powers, Washington Post, 6 Oct. 2022 The author does a masterly job of keeping all plot elements in play and in balance, and the complications only add to the satisfaction of the mystery’s eventual solution. Tom Nolan, WSJ, 2 Sep. 2022 Filled with powerhouse turns, the sprawling drama reveals the 32-year-old writer-director to be a masterly filmmaker whose voice is one to be reckoned with. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 28 May 2022 Ehrman follows up his masterly history of concepts of the afterlife with one about narratives in which a living soul—like Dante led by Virgil—is given a tour of what awaits us after death. The New Yorker, 23 May 2022 See More

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 1 Jun. 2023.

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

More from Merriam-Webster on masterly

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