synonyms, antonyms, definitions, examples & translations of ability in English

English Online Dictionary. What means ability‎? What does ability mean?


Alternative forms

  • abilitie, hability, habilitie (obsolete)


First attested in the 1300s. From Middle English abilite (suitability, aptitude, ability), from Middle French habilité, from Old French ableté, from Latin habilitās (aptness, ability), from habilis (apt, fit, skillful, able), equivalent to able +‎ -ity.


  • (US) IPA(key): /əˈbɪl.ə.ti/, /əˈ.bɪl.ɪ.ti/
  • Rhymes: -ɪlɪti


ability (countable and uncountable, plural abilities)

  1. (obsolete) Suitableness. [Attested from around (1350 to 1470) until the late 17th century.]
  2. (uncountable) The quality or state of being able; capacity to do or of doing something; having the necessary power. [First attested from around (1350 to 1470).]
  3. The legal wherewithal to act. [First attested in the mid 17th century.]
  4. (now limited to Scotland dialects) Physical power. [First attested from around (1350 to 1470).]
  5. (archaic) Financial ability. [First attested in the early 16th century.]
  6. (uncountable) A unique power of the mind; a faculty. [First attested in the late 16 th century.]
  7. (countable) A skill or competence in doing; mental power; talent; aptitude. [First attested in the early 17 th century.]
    • 1769, King James Bible, Acts 11:29
      Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren.

Usage notes

  • Ability, capacity : these words come into comparison when applied to the higher intellectual powers.
    • Ability has reference to the active exercise of our faculties. It implies not only native vigor of mind, but that ease and promptitude of execution which arise from mental training. Thus, we speak of the ability with which a book is written, an argument maintained, a negotiation carried on, etc. It always supposes something to be done, and the power of doing it.
    • Capacity has reference to the receptive powers. In its higher exercises it supposes great quickness of apprehension and breadth of intellect, with an uncommon aptitude for acquiring and retaining knowledge. Hence it carries with it the idea of resources and undeveloped power. Thus we speak of the extraordinary capacity of such men as Lord Bacon, Blaise Pascal, and Edmund Burke. "Capacity," says H. Taylor, "is requisite to devise, and ability to execute, a great enterprise."
  • The word abilities, in the plural, embraces both these qualities, and denotes high mental endowments.


  • (quality or state of being able): capacity, faculty, capability
  • (a skill or competence): See Thesaurus:skill
  • (high level of skill or capability): talent, cleverness, dexterity, aptitude
  • (suitability or receptiveness to be acted upon): capability, faculty, capacity, aptness, aptitude


  • inability, unability
  • disability

Derived terms

  • notability

Related terms

  • able


Further reading

  • ability in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.
  • ability in The Century Dictionary, New York, N.Y.: The Century Co., 1911.


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This article based on an article on Wiktionary. The list of authors can be seen in the page history there. The original work has been modified. This article is distributed under the terms of this license.