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a. The ability to do something well or efficiently.
b. A range of skill or ability: a task beyond his competence.
c. A specific ability or skill: a surprising competence in dealing with animals.
2. Law The quality or condition of being legally qualified or fit to perform an act.
3. Microbiology The ability of bacteria to be genetically transformable.
4. Medicine The ability to respond immunologically to bacteria, viruses, or other antigenic agents.
5. Linguistics The knowledge that enables one to speak and understand a language.
6. Sufficient means for a comfortable existence.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


1. the condition of being capable; ability
2. a sufficient income to live on
3. (Law) the state of being legally competent or qualified
4. (Biology) embryol the ability of embryonic tissues to react to external conditions in a way that influences subsequent development
5. (Grammar) linguistics (in transformational grammar) the form of the human language faculty, independent of its psychological embodiment in actual human beings. Compare performance7, langue, parole5
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014


(ˈkɒm pɪ təns)

1. the quality of being competent.
2. an income sufficient to furnish the necessities and modest comforts of life.
3. the sum total of possible developmental responses of any group of blastemic cells under varied external conditions.
4. 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).
5. the state of being immunocompetent.
[1585–95; < Middle French < Medieval Latin]
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.



answer the bell To meet demands, requirements, or requests; to respond to a challenge, to pick up the glove or gauntlet. The allusion is to a boxing match in which a bell is sounded to signal the beginning of each round. If a boxer is too hurt to continue the fight, however, he will not answer the bell, i.e., come out of his corner to start the next round.

cut the mustard To meet or exceed performance requirements; to succeed or accomplish. Several marginally plausible derivations have been proposed, one of which relies on the definition of mustard as the strong spice considered by many chefs to be the finishing touch to several culinary masterpieces. As with most flavor enhancers, mustard is cut into the food, that is, added in small amounts. Another source suggests that the original expression may have been cut the muster, implying that a soldier passed inspection with flying colors.

I looked around and found a proposition that exactly cut the mustard. (O. Henry, Heart of the West, 1907)

In contemporary usage, the expression is often employed in a negative phrase such as can’t cut the mustard or doesn’t cut the mustard.

earn one’s wings To prove one-self proficient and reliable in a given skill or ability. The allusion is to the wing-shaped badges worn by pilots and other aircraft crew members upon completion of rigid requirements and strict training. Such badges are symbolic of competence.

pass muster To pass inspection; to meet or surpass certain standards; to be approved or accepted; to succeed. Muster is a military term for an assemblage of troops for inspection or some other purpose. Thus, in its original context, pass muster indicated that a soldier had successfully undergone an inspection. The expression soon expanded into more figurative applications, and continues in widespread use.

[She has] enough good looks to make her pass muster. (William Thackeray, The Newcomes; Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family, 1855)

toe the mark To conform to rules or standards, to come up to scratch, to shape up; to fulfill one’s obligations, to perform one’s duty; also to toe the line.

To-day they had decided to toe the line with the progressive workers of the country. (Daily News, March, 1910)

Originally and literally to toe the mark meant to line up in a row with the toes touching a mark or line. It was probably used in reference to runners at the starting line of a race or to military personnel arrayed for inspection. The earliest recorded written use of the expression was in James K. Paulding’s The Diverting History of John Bull and Brother Jonathan (1813).

up to scratch Meeting specified standards; acceptable, satisfactory. The scratch of the expression was the line drawn on the ground in various sporting events: prize fighting, cockfighting, foot racing, and others. Contestants who came “up to [the] scratch” were worthy competitors, ready to undertake the challenge and prove their mettle. Thus the expression is similar in origin and current meaning to toe the mark. Today it is used primarily for performance evaluation, but may be varied in context to specify any type of judgmental standard.

Bulls … that are not up to scratch as to size. (Farmer’s Weekly[South Africa], cited in Webster’s Third)

up to snuff Satisfactory, acceptable; up to par; meeting performance standards. Webster’s Third cites W. H. Whyte:

If your work wasn’t up to snuff … you’d hear about it quick enough.

The British require more than mere acceptability for “up to snuff,” however; for them it means ‘alert, sharp, shrewd, not easily duped.’ Etymologically related to the German verb for to smell, the phrase up to snuff describes one who is quick to “smell out” a situation or to “be on the right scent;” one who is percipient and discerning.

Queer start, that ’ere, but he was one too many for you, warn’t he? Up to snuff, and a pinch or two over. (Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, 1837)

up to the mark Passing the test, meeting the requirements. There is little evidence to support the theory that the mark here is specifically that fixed by the Assay Office as the standard for gold and silver. Mark has so many applications relevant to criteria that none can be definitively cited as the sole origin. It is quite possible that this mark is the same as that of toe the mark, and as such is also the equivalent of scratch in up to scratch.

walk the chalk To pass the test, to meet the requirements. Literally the phrase refers to the sobriety test formerly given seamen: walking between parallel lines chalked on deck. The expression is little used today.

win one’s spurs To achieve recognition for one’s accomplishments, to distinguish one-self in one’s field, to prove one’s worth or ability. This expression, dating from the 14th century, originally meant to attain the rank of knight, since a newly dubbed knight was presented with a pair of gilt spurs as a symbol of his chivalry. In order to become a knight, one first had to distinguish one-self by performing acts of bravery, usually on the battlefield. The expression is still current.

Among them are David Giles (Richard II), Who won his spurs with The Forsyte Saga. (Saturday Review, February, 1979)

Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.competence - the quality of being adequately or well qualified physically and intellectually
fitness - the quality of being qualified
linguistic competence - (linguistics) a speaker's implicit, internalized knowledge of the rules of their language (contrasted with linguistic performance)
proficiency - the quality of having great facility and competence
ability - the quality of being able to perform; a quality that permits or facilitates achievement or accomplishment
incompetence, incompetency - lack of physical or intellectual ability or qualifications
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.


1. ability, skill, talent, capacity, expertise, proficiency, competency, capability I regard him as a man of integrity and high professional competence.
ability inability, incompetence
2. fitness, suitability, adequacy, appropriateness They questioned her competence as a mother.
fitness inadequacy
"He has, indeed, done it very well; but it is a foolish thing well done" [Dr. Johnson]
Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002


1. Physical, mental, financial, or legal power to perform:
2. Law. Conferred power:
The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
أَهْلِيَّه، جَدارَه، كَفاءه،
hæfni, færni


[ˈkɒmpɪtəns] competency [ˈkɒmpɪtənsɪ] N
1. (= ability) → competencia f, capacidad f
her competence as a nursesu competencia or capacidad como enfermera
he has achieved a certain level of competence in readingha conseguido un cierto nivel de competencia en la lectura
2. (= jurisdiction) → competencia f
that is not within my competenceeso está fuera de mi competencia, eso no me compete
Collins Spanish Dictionary - Complete and Unabridged 8th Edition 2005 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1971, 1988 © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2005


[ˈkɒmpɪtəns] ncompétence f
Collins English/French Electronic Resource. © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


, competency
Fähigkeit f; (of lawyer, scientist etc also, Ling) → Kompetenz f; to do something with surprising competenceetw mit erstaunlichem Geschick tun; his competence in handling money/dealing with awkward clientssein Geschick im Umgang mit Geld/schwierigen Kunden; what level of competence has the class reached in Spanish?auf welchem Stand ist die Klasse in Spanisch?
(form: = income) → Einkommen nt
(Jur) → Zuständigkeit f
Collins German Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 7th Edition 2005. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1980 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007


[ˈkɒmpɪtns] competency [ˈkɒmpɪtnsɪ] ncompetenza
Collins Italian Dictionary 1st Edition © HarperCollins Publishers 1995


(ˈkompətənt) adjective
capable; skilled. a competent pianist; competent to drive a car.
ˈcompetence noun
ˈcompetently adverb
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.
References in periodicals archive ?
Schott has entered into an agreement to acquire Primoceler, a Finnish specialist in glass micro bonding, to advance its competance in the field of hermetic packaging.
(18) Francois Crepeau & France Houle, "Competance et independance: Clefs de la credibilite de lAgence de protection", Memoire depose aupres de la Ministre de la Citoyennete et de l'Immigration lors des consultations sur le Rapport Trempe-Davis-Kunin, 6 March 1998, at 4.
House officers who knew how to administer GowGates had a mean self-percieved competance level of 4.14 SD+-2.8 (median 5) while those who did not know the technique had a mean competance level of 0.85 SD+-1.7, (median 0, p < 0.0001, Man Whitney U test).