[kom-pi-tuh ns]
See more synonyms for competence on
  1. the quality of being competent; adequacy; possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity: He hired her because of her competence as an accountant.
  2. an income sufficient to furnish the necessities and modest comforts of life.
  3. sufficiency; a sufficient quantity.
  4. Law. (of a witness, a party to a contract, etc.) legal capacity or qualification based on the meeting of certain minimum requirements of age, soundness of mind, citizenship, or the like.
  5. Embryology. the sum total of possible developmental responses of any group of blastemic cells under varied external conditions.
  6. Linguistics. the implicit, internalized knowledge of a language that a speaker possesses and that enables the speaker to produce and understand the language.Compare performance(def 8).
  7. Immunology. immunocompetence.
  8. Geology. the ability of a fluid medium, as a stream or the wind, to move and carry particulate matter, measured by the size or weight of the largest particle that can be transported.

Origin of competence

First recorded in 1585–95; compet(ent) + -ence Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for competence

Contemporary Examples of competence

Historical Examples of competence

  • There is no mention in the old play of this "competence of life."

  • They were thus, in an hour, reduced from competence to the extreme of want.

    King Philip

    John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott

  • After a struggle the company boomed, and you were left with a competence for life.

    The Golden Woman

    Ridgwell Cullum

  • Is the vulgar security of competence to live on—is that enough for one like you?

    Lord Kilgobbin

    Charles Lever

  • Peter could gain no competence from the stony farm, no consent from the girl.

    Blazed Trail Stories

    Stewart Edward White

British Dictionary definitions for competence


  1. the condition of being capable; ability
  2. a sufficient income to live on
  3. the state of being legally competent or qualified
  4. embryol the ability of embryonic tissues to react to external conditions in a way that influences subsequent development
  5. linguistics (in transformational grammar) the form of the human language faculty, independent of its psychological embodiment in actual human beingsCompare performance (def. 7), langue, parole (def. 5)
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 competence

1590s, "rivalry" (based on compete); c.1600 "adequate supply;" 1630s, "sufficiency of means for living at ease," from French compétence, from Latin competentia "meeting together, agreement, symmetry," from competens, present participle of competere, especially in its earlier sense of "fall together, come together, be convenient or fitting" (see compete). Meaning "sufficiency to deal with what is at hand" is from 1790.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

competence in Medicine


  1. The quality of being competent or capable of performing an allotted function.
  2. The quality or condition of being legally qualified to perform an act.
  3. The mental ability to distinguish right from wrong and to manage one's own affairs.
  4. The ability of a cell, especially a bacterial cell, to be genetically transformable.
  5. The ability to respond immunologically to viruses or other antigenic agents.
  6. Integrity, especially the normal tight closure of a cardiac valve.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

competence in Science


  1. The ability of bacteria to be undergo genetic transformation.
  2. The ability to respond immunologically to an antigen, as in an immune cell responding to a virus.
  3. The ability to function normally because of structural integrity, as in a heart valve.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.