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

Examples of mettle in a Sentence

The competition will test her mettle.
Recent Examples on the Web There is no better way for Biden to prove his mettle than to keep doing exactly what he’s been doing over the last week. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, TIME, 9 July 2024 His value isn't entirely speculative, but the intriguing young guard has yet to entirely prove his mettle on the floor for the Pistons. David Faris, Newsweek, 9 July 2024 But more than anything, the episode tested his mettle. Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY, 2 July 2024 An essential part of filmmaking is adapting to last-minute changes on the spot — and Dev Patel proved his directorial mettle after sustaining a significant injury on the set of Monkey Man. Wesley Stenzel,, 10 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for mettle 

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

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 21 Jul. 2024.

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

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