masterful

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English[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

master +‎ -ful

Adjective[edit]

masterful (comparative more masterful, superlative most masterful)

  1. Of or pertaining to the manner of a master of an art, technique, profession, or craft; masterly.
    The brushwork on the skin tones was masterful.
  2. In the manner of a master; very skillful.
    The masterful conducting ensured the orchestra gave of their best.
  3. Having or showing the qualities of a master vis-a-vis a dependent or subordinate; authoritative; domineering.
    • 1847, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Chapter 14, Rochester to Jane by the fire:
      ...do you not agree with me that I have a right to be a little masterful, abrupt; perhaps exacting, sometimes, on the grounds I stated...
    • 1868-69, Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, Chapter 38:
      When John spoke in that masterful tone, Meg always obeyed, and never regretted her docility.
    • 1908, E. M. Forster, A Room with a View, Chapter 18, Lucy to Mr. Beebe about Cecil:
      ...it was that he is so masterful. I found that he wouldn't let me go my own way.

Usage notes[edit]

Historically, definition 3 of masterful (authoritative, domineering) has long been losing ground to definitions 1 and 2 (masterly, skillful). In nineteenth century US usage of masterful, definition 3 was almost always meant (10:1). In contemporary US usage, however, the situation is reversed: definitions 1 or 2 are usually meant (10:1).

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Related terms[edit]