noun met·tle \ ˈme-tᵊl \
|Updated on: 10 Jul 2018

Definition of mettle

1 a : vigor and strength of spirit or temperament (see temperament 1a)
  • a girl of … mettle who lost a baby brother to leukemia
  • —Bill Zehme
b : staying quality : stamina
  • equipment that proved its mettle
  • proved his mettle in battle
2 : quality of temperament or disposition
  • gentlemen of brave mettle
  • —William Shakespeare


play \-tᵊld\ adjective
on one's mettle
: aroused to do one's best

mettle was our Word of the Day on 09/23/2016. Hear the podcast!

Examples of mettle in a Sentence

  1. The competition will test her mettle.

Recent Examples of mettle from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of mettle

alteration of metal

Synonym Discussion of 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

METTLE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of mettle for English Language Learners

  • : strength of spirit : ability to continue despite difficulties

METTLE Defined for Kids


noun met·tle \ ˈme-tᵊl \

Definition of mettle for Students

: strength of spirit : courage The competition will test her mettle.

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a downward inclination or slope

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