Grammar and Punctuation The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Masterful, Masterly

Another pair of words whose distinct meanings have been blurred by carelessness. The problem centers on masterful, in such phrases as a masterful artist or a masterful performance. Make it masterly, which means "highly accomplished," "inspired," "demonstrating mastery."

Masterful has darker shadings. It's about being the alpha dog: dominant, supreme—almost ruthlessly so. A masterful performance should refer to a boxer or a victorious football team rather than a cello concert.

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