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

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 This masterly novel, set in Ohio in 1860, centers on a motherless 12-year-old named Silas and his companion, a teenage ghost, who together set off to rescue Silas’s kidnapped father. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, 10 Dec. 2021 Antony Sher, an actor known for his masterly interpretations of Shakespeare’s great characters and for his versatility, died on Thursday at his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. New York Times, 5 Dec. 2021 Jane Campion’s masterly psychodrama is a story of repression, something Rose knows a thing or two about. Matthew Jacobs, Vulture, 2 Dec. 2021 Signori is a masterly oil painter who builds images in the classical manner with a succession of glazes. Washington Post, 19 Nov. 2021 Here, those in the first few rows could see first-hand conductor Jordan de Souza’s masterly control of the mood and pacing in the crucial final passages. Michael Phillips,, 14 Nov. 2021 The Longhorns, who officially begin their title chase Tuesday against Houston Baptist at the Erwin Center, have embraced the hype tsunami that has rolled through Austin after an offseason of masterly portal picking and positive headlines. Nick Moyle, San Antonio Express-News, 8 Nov. 2021 Perhaps the most striking feature of Bellamy’s excessive prose, however, is her masterly deployment of brevity. The New Yorker, 8 Nov. 2021 There’s nothing predictable or formulaic about this masterly exercise in incremental, calmly framed tension and uneasy human/animal coexistence. Tribune News Service, cleveland, 7 Oct. 2021

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

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Last Updated

23 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Masterly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on masterly

Nglish: Translation of masterly for Spanish Speakers


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