[mas-ter-fuhl, mah-ster-]


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 formsmas·ter·ful·ly, adverbmas·ter·ful·ness, nouno·ver·mas·ter·ful, adjectiveo·ver·mas·ter·ful·ly, adverbo·ver·mas·ter·ful·ness, nounun·mas·ter·ful, adjectiveun·mas·ter·ful·ly, adverb
Can be confusedmasterful masterly (see usage note at the current entry)

Synonyms for masterful

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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for masterful

Contemporary Examples of masterful

Historical Examples of masterful

  • 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 Formsmasterfully, adverbmasterfulness, noun


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

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