1 a : inclined and usually competent to act as master
b : suggestive of a domineering nature
2 : having or reflecting the skills of a master
Did You Know?
Some commentators insist that masterful must only mean "domineering," reserving the "expert, skillful" sense for masterly. The distinction is a modern one. In earlier times, the terms were used interchangeably, with each having both the "domineering" and "expert" senses. The "domineering" sense of masterly fell into disuse around the 18th century, however, and in the 20th century the famous grammarian H. W. Fowler decided that masterful should be similarly limited to a single meaning. He summarily ruled that the "expert" definition of masterful was incorrect. Other usage writers followed his lead. But the "expert" meaning of masterful has continued to flourish in standard prose in spite of the disapproval, and, considering the sense's long history, it cannot really be called an error.
"The San Carlos-based author is a masterful storyteller, and her command of language, plot and character come together brilliantly…." - Georgia Rowe, San Jose (California) Mercury News, March 20, 2015
"He was a fellow of huge physical strength, masterful, violent, with a certain barbaric thrift and some intelligence of men and business." - Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas, 1896
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