Mantel and Mantle

Christmas stockings hanging from a mantle
(Steve Sucsy/Getty Images)

The words mantel and mantle are homophones (or, in some dialects, near homophones): they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun mantel refers to a shelf above a fireplace.

The noun mantle refers to a cloak or (usually figuratively) to royal robes of state as a symbol of authority or responsibility.

Examples

  • Several framed photographs and a vase of pink roses stood on the mantel.
  • "When Albert came back from seeing Mrs. Parmenter down to her car, he found his uncle standing by the fire, his elbow on the mantel, thoughtfully rolling a cigarette."
    (Willa Cather, "Double Birthday." The Forum, 1929)
  • Barack Obama arrived at the White House wearing a mantle of change but quickly realized that his job description would have more to do with damage control.
  • "The Republican supremacy collapsed in the election of 1932; the Democratic Party picked up the mantle of reform, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal shaped the contours of American government for the next two generations."
    (Sean Wilentz, "If Trump Breaks Up the GOP, It Won't Be a First." The New York Times, May 20, 2015)

Usage Notes

"MANTEL/MANTLE. This pair has bedeviled legions of people (including upscale auction houses in their catalogue descriptions of mantel clocks). A good way to spell it correctly every time is to remember that a mantel is a shelf (as, over a fireplace). An example would be: He put the vase on the mantel (shelf).

In contradistinction, 'mantle' means: cloak. E.g., She wore the mantle of respectability. He awoke to find his lawn adorned with a mantle of snow. Before entering the church, she placed a mantle on her head. His Coleman lantern had a double mantle.
(Santo J. Aurelio, How to Say it and Write it Correctly Now, 2nd ed. Synergy, 2004) )

Idiom Alerts

Mantle means, among other things, 'a loose robe.' It is frequently used in figurative senses <mantle of leadership> <mantle of greatness>. E.g., 'The tributes flowing in suggest a mantle of modern sainthood falling about her.' Polly Toynbee, 'Will Diana's Ghost Haunt the Monarchy?' San Diego Union-Trib, 7 Sept. 1997, at G6. The word frequently appears in the phrase take on the mantle of or take up the mantle of (a predecessor, etc.). You can also just take the mantle, but the phrasal verbs take on and take up appear more frequently.
(Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press, 2016)