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From Middle English and Old French maistresse (French maîtresse), feminine of maistre (master). This may be broken down as mister +‎ -ess.


  • enPR: mĭsʹtrĭs, IPA(key): /ˈmɪstɹɪs/
  • (file)


mistress (plural mistresses)

  1. A woman, specifically one with great control, authority or ownership
    Synonyms: boss (applicable to either sex), head (applicable to either sex), leader (applicable to either sex)
    (male equivalent) master
    • 1918, W. B. Maxwell, chapter 19, in The Mirror and the Lamp:
      At the far end of the houses the head gardener stood waiting for his mistress, and he gave her strips of bass to tie up her nosegay. This she did slowly and laboriously, with knuckly old fingers that shook.
    She was the mistress of the estate-mansion, and owned the horses.
  2. A female teacher
    Synonym: schoolmarm
    (male equivalent) master
    games mistress
  3. The other woman in an extramarital relationship, generally including sexual relations
    Synonyms: bit on the side (applicable to either sex), fancy woman, comaré, goomah; see also Thesaurus:mistress
    Antonyms: cicisbeo, fancy man
  4. A dominatrix
    (male equivalent) master
    • 2006, Amelia May Kingston, The Triumph of Hope (page 376)
      As part of BDSM play they can enhance the domineering tread of a mistress or hobble the steps of a slave.
  5. A woman well skilled in anything, or having the mastery over it
  6. a woman regarded with love and devotion; a sweetheart
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Clarendon to this entry?)
  7. (Scotland) A married woman; a wife
  8. (obsolete) The jack in the game of bowls
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Beaumont and Fletcher to this entry?)
    • 2001, Paul Hemenway Altrocchi, Most Greatly Lived:
      She took a bowl, drew up her skirt with her left hand, and rolled the weighted ball with a deft motion. It lightly kissed the mistress and stopped a few inches away.
  9. A female companion to a master (a man with control, authority or ownership)
  10. feminine equivalent of master
  11. feminine equivalent of mister

Usage notes[edit]

In the extramarital sense, mistress is often narrowly taken to mean a woman involved in a committed extramarital relationship (an affair), often supported financially (a kept woman). It can also be broadly taken to mean a woman involved in an extramarital relationship regardless of the level of commitment, but requires more than a single act of adultery.[1]

Derived terms[edit]



mistress (third-person singular simple present mistresses, present participle mistressing, simple past and past participle mistressed)

  1. (transitive, rare) Of a woman: to master; to learn or develop to a high degree of proficiency.
    • 2013, Andrea Khalil, North African Cinema in a Global Context: Through the Lens of Diaspora:
      These films give a glimpse of women on the way to mistressing their own de
  2. (intransitive) To act or take the role of a mistress.
    • 1905, Samuel Rutherford Crockett, Maid Margaret of Galloway:
      [] housewifery, maternity, charity, the life conventual, the chatter of a court, the mistressing of a great house []

See also[edit]