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noun, plural a·bil·i·ties.
  1. power or capacity to do or act physically, mentally, legally, morally, financially, etc.
  2. competence in an activity or occupation because of one's skill, training, or other qualification: the ability to sing well.
  3. 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 formssub·a·bil·i·ty, noun, plural sub·a·bil·i·ties.
Can be confusedability capacity

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Synonym study

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.


  1. a combination of -able and -ity, found on nouns corresponding to adjectives in -able: capability.

Origin of -ability

Middle English -abiliteLatin -ābilitās
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for ability


noun plural -ties
  1. possession of the qualities required to do something; necessary skill, competence, or powerthe ability to cope with a problem
  2. considerable proficiency; natural capabilitya man of ability
  3. (plural) special talents

Word Origin for ability

C14: from Old French from Latin habilitās aptitude, handiness, from habilis able
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

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