- masterful, masterlyAlthough both words have at some time in their history shared all the meanings involved here, they have settled down in more recent usage in such a way that masterful conveys meanings to do with dominance and power whereas masterly connotes skill and fine qualities:
• ‘Oh, I do like the way you talk to the waiters, so masterful,’ sighed Esther —S. Mackay, 1984.
• The heart of the concert was some positively thrilling playing from the Grimethorpe Colliery and Black Dyke Bands, best of all when combined in Elgar's masterly Severn Suite —Daily Telegraph, 2007.Fowler (1926) noted with regret that masterful was too often used for masterly (though not the other way round), and this is still the case:
• ☒ There are just enough such slippages in this generally masterful book to suggest that Fish still has room for further self-revision —Times Literary Supplement, 1990☒
• This is the sort of television that deserves to win awards but very rarely does so-not just for the script and the acting but also for a sublime soundtrack and masterful camerawork —Observer, 2007.We also find masterfully now and then doubling as an adverb for masterly, which lacks a single-word equivalent:
• ☒ For over twenty years, Hugo had masterfully deployed the metaphor of the wave —A. Martin, 1991.The distinction is important since the two words are not so distinct in meaning that ambiguity can always be avoided.
Modern English usage. 2014.