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[mas-ter-fuh l, mah-ster-] /ˈmæs tər fəl, ˈmɑ stər-/
dominating; self-willed; imperious.
having or showing the qualities of a master; authoritative; powerful.
showing mastery or skill; masterly:
a masterful performance.
Origin of masterful
Middle English word dating back to 1300-50; See origin at master, -ful
Related forms
masterfully, adverb
masterfulness, noun
overmasterful, adjective
overmasterfully, adverb
overmasterfulness, noun
unmasterful, adjective
unmasterfully, adverb
Can be confused
masterful, masterly (see usage note at the current entry)
1. peremptory. 3. consummate, supreme; adept, expert, skilled, skillful, matchless.
Usage note
At an earlier time, both masterful and masterly had two senses: “having a commanding or domineering nature or manner” and “possessing the skill of a master.” The earliest sense of masterly, “having a commanding nature,” has been obsolete since the 18th century. Masterful continues to be used in all varieties of speech and writing in both senses, despite the protests of some who prefer that masterful be restricted to the sense “dominating or imperious”: The envoy's masterful behavior irritated the citizens. Few painters have produced so many masterful (or masterly) portraits. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for masterful
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • There was a masterful quality in his declaration, which seemed to ignore her negation.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • She was energetic, prudent, and masterful, having an excellent head for business.

    Jan and Her Job L. Allen Harker
  • There was something so strong, reliant, masterful about her Jack that made him irresistible to her.

    The Night Riders Ridgwell Cullum
  • There was something so gracious and yet so masterful about him.

    The Christian Hall Caine
  • He was calm again; and he was masterful for the first time in all his dealings with her.

    The Snare Rafael Sabatini
British Dictionary definitions for masterful


having or showing mastery
fond of playing the master; imperious
Derived Forms
masterfully, adverb
masterfulness, noun
Usage note
The use of masterful to mean masterly as in a masterful performance, although common, is considered incorrect by many people
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for masterful

c.1300, "fond of being a master," from master (n.) + -ful. Sense evolved through "having capabilities to command" (c.1400) to "characterized by a master's skill" (1610s). Related: Masterfully.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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