masterful, masterly
Although 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.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Masterly — Mas ter*ly, a. 1. Suitable to, or characteristic of, a master; indicating thorough knowledge or superior skill and power; showing a master s hand; as, a masterly design; a masterly performance; a masterly policy. A wise and masterly inactivity.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • masterly — [mas′tər lē] adj. showing the ability or skill of a master; expert [a masterly job of repair work] adv. in a masterly manner masterliness n …   English World dictionary

  • Masterly — Mas ter*ly, adv. With the skill of a master. [1913 Webster] Thou dost speak masterly. Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • masterly — index artful, capable, competent, deft, expert, practiced, subtle (refined) Burton s Legal Thesaurus …   Law dictionary

  • masterly — (adj.) 1530s, overbearing; 1660s, skillful, from MASTER (Cf. master) (n.) + LY (Cf. ly) …   Etymology dictionary

  • masterly — *proficient, adept, skilled, skillful, expert Analogous words: *dexterous, deft, adroit: preeminent, superlative, transcendent, *supreme …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • masterly — ► ADJECTIVE ▪ performed or performing very skilfully …   English terms dictionary

  • masterly — adjective Date: 15th century 1. suitable to or resembling that of a master; especially indicating thorough knowledge or superior skill and power < a masterly performance > 2. having the power and skill of a master < she s masterly at description… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • masterly — [[t]mɑ͟ːstə(r)li, mæ̱s [/t]] ADJ GRADED (approval) If you describe something as masterly, you admire it because it has been done extremely well or shows the highest level of ability and skill. Malcolm Hebden gives a masterly performance... Attlee …   English dictionary

  • masterly — masterliness, n. /mas teuhr lee, mah steuhr /, adj. 1. like or befitting a master, as in skill or art; worthy of a master; very skillful: a masterly presentation of the budget. adv. 2. in a masterly manner. [1375 1425; late ME maisterly. See… …   Universalium

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