mas·​ter·​ful | \ ˈma-stər-fəl How to pronounce masterful (audio) \

Definition of masterful

1a : inclined and usually competent to act as master
b : suggestive of a domineering nature
2 : having or reflecting the power and skill of a master

Other Words from masterful

masterfully \ ˈma-​stər-​fə-​lē How to pronounce masterful (audio) \ adverb
masterfulness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for masterful

masterful, domineering, imperious, peremptory, imperative mean tending to impose one's will on others. masterful implies a strong personality and ability to act authoritatively. her masterful personality soon dominated the movement domineering suggests an overbearing or arbitrary manner and an obstinate determination to enforce one's will. children controlled by domineering parents imperious implies a commanding nature or manner and often suggests arrogant assurance. an imperious executive used to getting his own way peremptory implies an abrupt dictatorial manner coupled with an unwillingness to brook disobedience or dissent. given a peremptory dismissal imperative implies peremptoriness arising more from the urgency of the situation than from an inherent will to dominate. an imperative appeal for assistance

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.

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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.

Examples of masterful in a Sentence

His manner was masterful and abrupt. a masterful work of art He did a masterful job of staying out of trouble.
Recent Examples on the Web Their coach, Jason Kidd, did a masterful job preparing his team for Game 3, but not necessarily by adjusting his scheme or changing his rotation of players. Kent Somers, The Arizona Republic, 7 May 2022 The fossil fuel industry has done a masterful job to date of concealing the effects of its products, but articles like this will hopefully wake us up. Los Angeles Times, 15 Apr. 2022 To his credit, President Biden has performed a masterful job in unifying NATO to take a strong initial stand against Russia. John Yoo, National Review, 19 Mar. 2022 As shown in the video, Schwartz does a masterful job driving the Model S Plaid around the Grand Course, including one sphincter-clenching moment when disaster almost struck. Eric Stafford, Car and Driver, 17 Mar. 2022 The masterful work of this film is to instead present women in their untamed state: unpolished and vulnerable. Arushi Sinha, Vogue, 15 Jan. 2022 Treasury of Southern Baking is a masterful work, bringing centuries of Southern food, hospitality, and culture into homes across America and around the world. Bon Appétit, 26 Oct. 2021 Cleveland was masterful against the spread when up against winning opponents this season, boasting a 23-15-1 ATS mark. Xl Media, cleveland, 12 Apr. 2022 It’s so beautiful to see someone’s art and voice change over many years and be so masterful, honed in, and well-crafted. Julyssa Lopez, Rolling Stone, 9 Feb. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of masterful

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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

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Last Updated

20 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Masterful.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for masterful


mas·​ter·​ful | \ ˈma-stər-fəl How to pronounce masterful (audio) \

Kids Definition of masterful

1 : tending to take control : displaying authority
2 : having or showing great skill a masterful sailor

More from Merriam-Webster on masterful

Nglish: Translation of masterful for Spanish Speakers


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