[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 masterfully

Contemporary Examples of masterfully

Historical Examples of masterfully

  • In the old days he had taken his own masterfully, with no doubts.

  • He talked of her and looked at her and spoke, masterfully and yet shyly, of being with her in New York.


    Edna Ferber

  • Boyle passed his arm around her promptly, firmly, masterfully.

  • She swung her keys on a black riband and gazed at him masterfully.

    Privy Seal

    Ford Madox Ford

  • Masterfully he led the girl out through the doorway to the hall.

    The Girl and The Bill

    Bannister Merwin

British Dictionary definitions for masterfully



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 masterfully



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