What does ability mean?

Definitions for ability
əˈbɪl ɪ tiabil·i·ty

This dictionary definitions page includes all the possible meanings, example usage and translations of the word ability.

Princeton's WordNet

  1. abilitynoun

    the quality of being able to perform; a quality that permits or facilitates achievement or accomplishment

  2. ability, powernoun

    possession of the qualities (especially mental qualities) required to do something or get something done

    "danger heightened his powers of discrimination"


  1. abilitynoun

    The quality or state of being able.

  2. abilitynoun

    A skill or competence in doing.

  3. abilitynoun

    A high level of skill or competence.

  4. abilitynoun

    Physical, mental or legal power to perform.

  5. abilitynoun


  6. Etymology: * First attested from before 1398.

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

  1. Abilitynoun

    Etymology: Habileté, Fr.

    Of singing thou hast got the reputation,
    Good Thyrsis, mine I yield to thy ability;
    My heart doth seek another estimation. Philip Sidney, b. i.

    If aught in my ability may serve
    To heighten what thou suffer’st, and appease
    Thy mind with what amends is in my pow’r. John Milton, Sampson Agonistes, l. 744.

    They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work. Ezra ii. 69.

    If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ. 1 Pet. iv. 11.

    Children in whom there was no blemish, but well-favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace. Dan. i. 4.

    Wherever we find our abilities too weak for the performance, he assures us of the assistance of his holy spirit. John Rogers, Sermons.

    Whether it may be thought necessary, that in certain tracts of country, like what we call parishes, there should be one man, at least, of abilities to read and write? Jonathan Swift, Arguments against abolishing Christianity.


  1. Ability

    Abilities are powers an agent has to perform various actions. They include common abilities, like walking, and rare abilities, like performing a double backflip. Abilities are intelligent powers: they are guided by the person's intention and executing them successfully results in an action, which is not true for all types of powers. They are closely related to but not identical with various other concepts, such as disposition, know-how, aptitude, talent, potential, and skill. Theories of ability aim to articulate the nature of abilities. Traditionally, the conditional analysis has been the most popular approach. According to it, having an ability means one would perform the action in question if one tried to do so. On this view, Michael Phelps has the ability to swim 200 meters in under 2 minutes because he would do so if he tried to. This approach has been criticized in various ways. Some counterexamples involve cases in which the agent is physically able to do something but unable to try, due to a strong aversion. In order to avoid these and other counterexamples, various alternative approaches have been suggested. Modal theories of ability, for example, focus on what is possible for the agent to do. Other suggestions include defining abilities in terms of dispositions and potentials. An important distinction among abilities is between general abilities and specific abilities. General abilities are abilities possessed by an agent independent of their situation while specific abilities concern what an agent can do in a specific situation. So while an expert piano player always has the general ability to play various piano pieces, they lack the corresponding specific ability in a situation where no piano is present. Another distinction concerns the question of whether successfully performing an action by accident counts as having the corresponding ability. In this sense, an amateur hacker may have the effective ability to hack his boss's email account, because they may be lucky and guess the password correctly, but not the corresponding transparent ability, since they are unable to reliably do so. The concept of abilities and how they are to be understood is relevant for various related fields. Free will, for example, is often understood as the ability to do otherwise. The debate between compatibilism and incompatibilism concerns the question whether this ability can exist in a world governed by deterministic laws of nature. Autonomy is a closely related concept, which can be defined as the ability of individual or collective agents to govern themselves. Whether an agent has the ability to perform a certain action is important for whether they have a moral obligation to perform this action. If they possess it, they may be morally responsible for performing it or for failing to do so. Like in the free will debate, it is also relevant whether they had the ability to do otherwise. A prominent theory of concepts and concept possession understands these terms in relation to abilities. According to it, it is required that the agent possess both the ability to discriminate between positive and negative cases and the ability to draw inferences to related concepts.


  1. ability

    Ability refers to the possession of skills, knowledge, or qualities that enable an individual to perform a task, achieve a goal, or engage in a specific activity successfully. It encompasses the aptitude, talent, competence, or proficiency required to carry out a particular action or function effectively. Abilities can vary among individuals and can be developed or enhanced through learning, practice, and experience.

Webster Dictionary

  1. Abilitynoun

    the quality or state of being able; power to perform, whether physical, moral, intellectual, conventional, or legal; capacity; skill or competence in doing; sufficiency of strength, skill, resources, etc.; -- in the plural, faculty, talent

Chambers 20th Century Dictionary

  1. Ability

    a-bil′i-ti, n. quality of being able: power: strength: skill.—n.pl. Abil′ities, the powers of the mind. [O. Fr. ableté (Fr. habileté)—L. habilitashabilis, easily handled, from habēre, to have, hold. See Able.]

Editors Contribution

  1. ability

    The feeling, understanding, power and knowing of being able.

    We are all able to do various tasks in life.

    Submitted by MaryC on January 25, 2020  

  2. ability

    The quality of being able.

    She was ableto do anything her heart desires.

    Submitted by MaryC on January 15, 2020  

Suggested Resources

  1. Ability

    Ability vs. Capability -- In this Grammar.com article you will learn the differences between the words Ability and Capability.

Matched Categories

British National Corpus

  1. Spoken Corpus Frequency

    Rank popularity for the word 'ability' in Spoken Corpus Frequency: #1104

  2. Written Corpus Frequency

    Rank popularity for the word 'ability' in Written Corpus Frequency: #1688

  3. Nouns Frequency

    Rank popularity for the word 'ability' in Nouns Frequency: #422

How to pronounce ability?

How to say ability in sign language?


  1. Chaldean Numerology

    The numerical value of ability in Chaldean Numerology is: 4

  2. Pythagorean Numerology

    The numerical value of ability in Pythagorean Numerology is: 6

Examples of ability in a Sentence

  1. Kasia Sawicka:

    Logistically speaking, if you think of a rapidly spreading pandemic, having the ability to vaccinate a large number of people is really the only way we know to date how to deal with it. If you need to train emergency personnel, that presents a problem. What if we had a way to vaccinate people by just telling them to stick on a Band-Aid? because the payload can be delivered to areas where it’s needed rapidly— no special handling required— then applied to the skin by someone whose sophistication is limited to that of applying a Band-Aid… it becomes possible to address these major challenges that have long bedeviled the health care profession in delivering vaccines to underserved areas.

  2. Mahmoud Abbas:

    I believe that we are capable under your leadership and under your courageous stewardship and your wisdom as well as your great negotiating ability ... I believe we can be partners -- true partners to you -- to bring about a historic peace treaty, now, Mr. President, with you we have hope.

  3. Sarah Turberville:

    The fact that Matthew Whitaker is a political operative isn't itself disqualifying, but I think where there are some concerns is the fact that Matthew Whitaker had been head of this very partisan organization for a number of years and that is what raises some alarm bells about Matthew Whitaker ability to impartially carry out the duties of attorney general of the United States.

  4. Aharon Kabesa:

    It's not logical that the (political) situation in the country endangers my children's ability to see.

  5. Siddharth Astir:

    Perseverance is for people with belief in their own ability, complacency is one arrogant step ahead.... for people with no clue of others' ability.

Popularity rank by frequency of use


Translations for ability

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"ability." Definitions.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 2 Mar. 2024. <https://www.definitions.net/definition/ability>.

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    Lengthy word or many syllables.
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