See also: -ability


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Alternative formsEdit


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/, /əˈbɪl.ɪ.ti/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɪlɪti


ability (countable and uncountable, plural abilities)

  1. (obsolete) Suitableness. [Attested from around (1350 to 1470) until the late 17th century.][1]
  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).][1]
    This phone has the ability to have its software upgraded wirelessly.
    This wood has the ability to fight off insects, fungus, and mold for a considerable time.
    • 2013 July 19, Peter Wilby, “Finland spreads word on schools”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 189, number 6, page 30:
      Imagine a country where children do nothing but play until they start compulsory schooling at age seven. Then, without exception, they attend comprehensives until the age of 16. Charging school fees is illegal, and so is sorting pupils into ability groups by streaming or setting.
  3. The legal wherewithal to act. [First attested in the mid 17th century.][1]
    • 2013 June 22, “T time”, in The Economist, volume 407, number 8841, page 68:
      The ability to shift profits to low-tax countries by locating intellectual property in them, which is then licensed to related businesses in high-tax countries, is often assumed to be the preserve of high-tech companies.
  4. (now limited to Scotland dialects) Physical power. [First attested from around (1350 to 1470).][1]
  5. (archaic) Financial ability. [First attested in the early 16th century.][1]
  6. (uncountable) A unique power of the mind; a faculty. [First attested in the late 16 th century.][1]
  7. (countable) A skill or competence in doing; mental power; talent; aptitude. [First attested in the early 17 th century.][1]
    They are persons of ability, who will go far in life.
    She has an uncanny ability to defuse conflict.
    • 1769, King James Bible, Acts 11:29
      Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren.
    • 1848, Thomas Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James II:
      The public men of England, with much of a peculiar kind of ability
    • 1884, Francis Bacon, Of Studies:
      Natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning by study -
    • 2011 November 10, Jeremy Wilson, “England Under 21 5 Iceland Under 21 0: match report”, in Telegraph:
      The most persistent tormentor was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who scored a hat-trick in last month’s corresponding fixture in Iceland. His ability to run at defences is instantly striking, but it is his clever use of possession that has persuaded some shrewd judges that he is an even better prospect than Theo Walcott.

Usage notesEdit

  • Ability, capacity : these words come into comparison when applied to the higher intellectual powers.
  • The word abilities, in the plural, embraces both these qualities, and denotes high mental endowments.
  1. ^ George Crabb, 1826, English synonymes explained in alphabetical order, Collins & Hannay, page 13



Derived termsEdit

Related termsEdit


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

Further readingEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Lesley Brown, editor-in-chief; William R. Trumble and Angus Stevenson, editors (2002), “ability”, in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th edition, Oxford; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 4.