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[uh-bil-i-tee] /əˈbɪl ɪ ti/
noun, plural abilities.
power or capacity to do or act physically, mentally, legally, morally, financially, etc.
competence in an activity or occupation because of one's skill, training, or other qualification:
the ability to sing well.
abilities, talents; special skills or aptitudes:
Composing music is beyond his abilities.
Origin of ability
1350-1400; Middle English (h)abilite < Middle French < Latin habilitās aptitude, equivalent to habili(s) handy (see able) + -tās -ty2; replacing Middle English ablete < Old French < Latin, as above
Related forms
subability, noun, plural subabilities.
Can be confused
ability, capacity.
1. capability; proficiency, expertness, dexterity. 2. Ability, faculty, talent denote qualifications or powers. Ability is a general word for power, native or acquired, enabling one to do things well: a person of great ability; ability in mathematics. Faculty denotes a natural ability for a particular kind of action: a faculty of saying what he means. Talent is often used to mean a native ability or aptitude in a special field: a talent for music or art.


a combination of -able and -ity, found on nouns corresponding to adjectives in -able:
Middle English -abiliteLatin -ābilitās Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for ability
  • They say all lovers swear more performance than they are able, and yet reserve an ability that they never perform.
  • The ability to spread underlies the killing power of cancer.
  • Without new batteries and new gyroscopes it would lose both the power and the ability to point in the right direction.
  • Last I checked, a hero was a person of distinguished courage or ability.
  • Native ability without education is like a tree without fruit.
  • This ability to resist fires has helped the pines of this region survive.
  • The ability to understand meanings of words and ideas associated with them and to use and comprehend language.
  • Reptiles and amphibians may be hard to see because of their small size, swiftness, or ability to camouflage themselves.
  • Considerable initiative and drive is essential as is ability to control staff and conduct correspondence.
  • We were also trying to impress each other with our ability to build stuff.
British Dictionary definitions for ability


noun (pl) -ties
possession of the qualities required to do something; necessary skill, competence, or power: the ability to cope with a problem
considerable proficiency; natural capability: a man of ability
(pl) special talents
Word Origin
C14: from Old French from Latin habilitās aptitude, handiness, from habilisable
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for ability

late 14c., from Old French ableté "expert at handling (something)," from Latin habilitatem (nominative habilitas) "aptitude," noun of quality from habilis "easy to manage, handy" (see able). One case where a Latin silent -h- failed to make a return in English (despite efforts of 16c.-17c. scholars); see H.


word-forming element expressing ability, fitness, or capacity, from Latin -abilitas, forming nouns from adjectives ending in -abilis (see -able). Not etymologically related to ability, though popularly connected with it.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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