met·​tle ˈme-tᵊl How to pronounce mettle (audio)
: vigor and strength of spirit or temperament (see temperament sense 1a)
a girl of … mettle who lost a baby brother to leukemiaBill Zehme
: staying quality : stamina
equipment that proved its mettle
proved his mettle in battle
: quality of temperament or disposition
gentlemen of brave mettleWilliam Shakespeare
mettled adjective
on one's mettle
: aroused to do one's best

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Is mettle Connected to Metal?

Originally, mettle was simply a variant spelling of the word metal (which dates to at least the 13th century), and it was used in all of the same senses as its metallic relative. Over time, however, mettle came to be used mainly in figurative senses referring to the quality of someone's character. It eventually became a distinct English word in its own right, losing its literal sense altogether. Metal remained a term primarily used for those hard, shiny substances such as steel or iron, but it also acquired a figurative use. Today, both words can mean "vigor and strength of spirit or temperament," but only metal is used of metallic substances.

Choose the Right Synonym for mettle

courage, mettle, spirit, resolution, tenacity mean mental or moral strength to resist opposition, danger, or hardship.

courage implies firmness of mind and will in the face of danger or extreme difficulty.

the courage to support unpopular causes

mettle suggests an ingrained capacity for meeting strain or difficulty with fortitude and resilience.

a challenge that will test your mettle

spirit also suggests a quality of temperament enabling one to hold one's own or keep up one's morale when opposed or threatened.

her spirit was unbroken by failure

resolution stresses firm determination to achieve one's ends.

the resolution of pioneer women

tenacity adds to resolution implications of stubborn persistence and unwillingness to admit defeat.

held to their beliefs with great tenacity

Example Sentences

The competition will test her mettle.
Recent Examples on the Web Jamie, the lawyer, is the resident whipping boy, the black sheep whose ambitions surpass his mettle. Lauren Michele Jackson, The New Yorker, 4 Feb. 2023 On Friday night, Ham saw his team's mettle and resolve pay off. Joe Reedy, ajc, 21 Jan. 2023 Other times, only one executive is seen as talented enough for the job (consider Steve Jobs at Apple, before Tim Cook proved his mettle, or JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon now). Lila Maclellan, Fortune, 20 Jan. 2023 Cung Hlei Thawng said the operation proved the CDF-Thantlang’s mettle to the CNA, who then began to arm the group. Time, 9 Nov. 2022 The Sister Judges showed true mettle through it all. Rose Minutaglio, ELLE, 2 Nov. 2022 Infinity Pool is a little more seized by these anxieties than its predecessors; more eager to prove its own mettle. John Semley, The New Republic, 2 Feb. 2023 However, Veterans Memorial proved its mettle in the fourth quarter, limiting Wagner to just six points and pulling away for a 60-50 victory that kept the Patriots (22-3, 4-0) unbeaten in district play. Joseph Myers, San Antonio Express-News, 10 Jan. 2023 The addition of Highland Park will raise the ceiling of the district, and give Jesuit a worthy opponent to test its mettle before the postseason. Dallas News, 18 Aug. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mettle.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


alteration of metal

First Known Use

1581, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of mettle was in 1581


Dictionary Entries Near mettle

Cite this Entry

“Mettle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


met·​tle ˈmet-ᵊl How to pronounce mettle (audio)
: quality of temperament or disposition
: strength of spirit
: ability to keep going : staying power

More from Merriam-Webster on mettle

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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