Date: 15th century
a. inclined and usually competent to act as master
b. suggestive of a domineering nature
2. having or reflecting the power and skill of a master
• masterfully adverb
• masterfulness noun
masterful, domineering, imperious, peremptory, imperative mean tending to impose one's will on others. masterful implies a strong personality and ability to act authoritatively <her masterful personality soon dominated the movement>. domineering suggests an overbearing or arbitrary manner and an obstinate determination to enforce one's will <children controlled by domineering parents>. imperious implies a commanding nature or manner and often suggests arrogant assurance <an imperious executive used to getting his own way>. peremptory implies an abrupt dictatorial manner coupled with an unwillingness to brook disobedience or dissent <given a peremptory dismissal>. imperative implies peremptoriness arising more from the urgency of the situation than from an inherent will to dominate <an imperative appeal for assistance>. Usage: Some commentators insist that use of masterful should be limited to sense 1 in order to preserve a distinction between it and masterly. The distinction is a modern one, excogitated by a 20th century pundit in disregard of the history of the word. Both words developed in a parallel manner but the earlier sense of masterly, equivalent to masterful 1, dropped out of use. Since masterly had but one sense, the pundit opined that it would be tidy if masterful were likewise limited to one sense and he forthwith condemned use of masterful 2 as an error. Sense 2 of masterful, which is slightly older than the sense of masterly intended to replace it, has continued in reputable use all along; it cannot rationally be called an error.
New Collegiate Dictionary. 2001.