Also found in: Thesaurus, Medical, Idioms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.


a general word for power, native or acquired, enabling one to do things well: an ability for math
Not to be confused with:
capacity – actual or potential ability to perform or withstand: a capacity for hard work
faculty – a natural ability for a particular kind of action: a faculty for choosing the right friends
talent – native ability or aptitude in a special field: a talent for art or music
Abused, Confused, & Misused Words by Mary Embree Copyright © 2007, 2013 by Mary Embree


n. pl. a·bil·i·ties
a. The quality of being able to do something, especially the physical, mental, financial, or legal power to accomplish something.
b. A skill, talent, or capacity: a student of many abilities.
2. The quality of being suitable for or receptive to a specified treatment: the ability of a computer to be configured for use as a file server. See Usage Note at able.

[Middle English abilite, from Old French habilite, from Latin habilitās, from habilis, handy; see able.]
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.


n, pl -ties
1. possession of the qualities required to do something; necessary skill, competence, or power: the ability to cope with a problem.
2. considerable proficiency; natural capability: a man of ability.
3. (plural) special talents
[C14: from Old French from Latin habilitās aptitude, handiness, from habilis able]
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014


(əˈbɪl ɪ ti)

n., pl. -ties.
1. power or capacity to do or act physically, mentally, legally, morally, or financially.
2. competence based on natural skill, training, or other qualification.
3. abilities, talents; special skills or aptitudes.
[1350–1400; Middle English (h)abilite < Middle French < Latin habilitās aptitude =habili(s) handy (see able) + -tās -ty2]
syn: ability, faculty, talent denote power or capacity to do something. ability is the general word for a natural or acquired capacity to do things; it usu. implies doing them well: a leader of great ability; ability in mathematics. faculty denotes a natural or acquired ability for a particular kind of action: a faculty for putting people at ease. talent usu. denotes an exceptional natural ability or aptitude in a particular field: a talent for music.


a combination of -able and -ity, found on nouns corresponding to adjectives in -able: capability.
[Middle English -abilite « Latin -ābilitās]
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.




  1. Able to absorb punishment as open buds absorb the dew —Grantland Rice
  2. The abilities of man must fall short on one side or other, like too scanty a blanket —Sir William Temple
  3. The ability to make a great individual fortune … is a sort of sublimated instinct in a way like the instinct of a rat-terrier for smelling out hidden rats —Irvin S. Cobb
  4. Being creative without talent is a bit like being a perfectionist and not being able to do anything right —Jane Agner
  5. Chose [people] with swift skill, like fruit tested for ripeness with a pinch —Paul Theroux
  6. (My wife … ) cooks like Escoffier on wheels —Moss Hart
  7. Cuts like a saw through soft pine through the chatter of freeloaders, time-wasting delegations —Stephen Longstreet

    In Longstreet’s novel, Ambassador, from which this is extracted, the efficiency tactics are diplomatic.

  8. Efficient as a good deer rifle —Bruce DeSilva
  9. Functioned as smoothly as a hospital kitchen —Laurie Colwin
  10. Resourceful and energetic as a street dog —James Mills
  11. Having communists draft the law for the most capitalist society on earth is like having a blind man guide you through the Louvre museum —Mark Faber, Wall Street Journal, June 19, 1986

    Faber’s simile pertained to the basic law that will govern Hong Kong in future.

  12. His [Brendan Sullivan’s] management (of Oliver North) is like one of those pictures that museum directors settle for labeling “Workshop of Veronese” because the hand of the master is not there for certain but his touch and teaching inarguably are —Murray Kempton, New York Post, December 12, 1986

    Kempton’s simile describes the legal abilities of a member in the Edward Bennett Williams law firm, representing Colonel North during the Iran weapons scandal.

  13. I can walk like an ox, run like a fox, swim like an eel … make love like a mad bull —David Crockett, speech to Congress
  14. Instinct as sure as sight —Edgar Lee Masters
  15. Native ability without education is like a tree without fruit —Aristippus
  16. Natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning by study —Francis Bacon
  17. Played bridge like an inspired card sharp —Marjory Stoneman Douglas
  18. To see him [Chief Justice Hughes] preside was like witnessing Toscanini lead an orchestra —Justice Felix Frankfurter
  19. Skilled … like a mischievous and thieving animal —Émile Zola
  20. Skillful as jugglers —Daphne du Maurier
  21. Talent is like a faucet. While it is open, one must write (paint, etc.) —Jean Anouilh, New York Times, October 2, 1960
  22. Talent, like beauty, to be pardoned, must be obscure and unostentatious —Marguerite, Countess Blessington
  23. You must work at the talent as a sculptor works at stone, chiselling, plotting, rounding, edging and making perfect —Dylan Thomas
Similes Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1988 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.



all is fish that comes to his net A proverbial phrase describing the luck of one for whom nothing ever goes awry because of a seemingly innate ability to turn everything to profit. Most fishermen expect to discover undesirable animals or debris in their nets, but the fortuitous fisherman’s net overflows with valuable fish only. The expression is used of one with an extraordinary capacity to develop invariably successful schemes and make consistently lucrative financial investments.

green thumb An above-average ability to grow plants; the knack of successfully cultivating and propagating plants. This phrase and its variant green fingers date from the early 1900s. A “green thumb” is like a magic touch which encourages rapid growth. Although the phrase is usually heard in the context of gardening, it can apply to any innate ability to make things grow and prosper.

“Success with money is often accidental,” she sighed. “One needs ‘green fingers’ to make it grow.” (Daily Telegraph, April 26, 1969)

keep one’s hand in To keep in practice, to dabble in, to maintain one’s proficiency in a certain activity. The expression usually implies sporadic or intermittent interest and activity.

know one’s beans See KNOWLEDGE.

the Midas touch An uncanny ability to make money; entrepreneurial expertise. Midas, legendary king of Phrygia, was divinely granted the power to transform anything he touched to gold. The gods relieved Midas of his power when the king realized that everything he touched, including food and his daughter, changed to gold. Still in general use, this expression often describes the moneymaking abilities of an entrepreneur.

Picasso, with his Midas touch, has at first try made the lino-cut a more dignified medium. (Times, July, 1960)

play a straight bat To know what you are doing, to know your business. This Briticism comes from the game of cricket.

to the manner born See STATUS.

Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.



Do not confuse ability with capability and capacity.

1. 'ability'

You often use ability to say that someone can do something well.

He had remarkable ability as a musician.
...the ability to bear hardship.
2. 'capability'

A person's capability is the amount of work they can do and how well they can do it.

...a job that was beyond the capability of one man.
...the director's ideas of the capability of the actor.
3. 'capacity'

If someone has a particular capacity, a capacity for something, or a capacity to do something, they have the qualities required to do it. Capacity is a more formal word than ability.

...their capacity for hard work.
...his capacity to see the other person's point of view.
Collins COBUILD English Usage © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 2004, 2011, 2012
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.ability - the quality of being able to performability - the quality of being able to perform; a quality that permits or facilitates achievement or accomplishment
adaptability - the ability to change (or be changed) to fit changed circumstances
quality - an essential and distinguishing attribute of something or someone; "the quality of mercy is not strained"--Shakespeare
sensitiveness, sensitivity - the ability to respond to affective changes in your interpersonal environment
competence, competency - the quality of being adequately or well qualified physically and intellectually
form - an ability to perform well; "he was at the top of his form"; "the team was off form last night"
interoperability - (computer science) the ability to exchange and use information (usually in a large heterogeneous network made up of several local area networks)
magical ability, magical power - an ability to perform magic
Midas touch - an ability to make and manage large amounts of money
penetration - the ability to make way into or through something; "the greater penetration of the new projectiles will result in greater injuries"
physical ability - the ability to perform some physical act; contrasting with mental ability
contractility - the capability or quality of shrinking or contracting, especially by muscle fibers and even some other forms of living matter
capability, capableness - the quality of being capable -- physically or intellectually or legally; "he worked to the limits of his capability"
totipotence, totipotency - the ability of a cell to give rise to unlike cells and so to develop a new organism or part; "animal cells lose their totipotency at an early stage in embryonic development"
immunocompetence - the ability to develop an immune response following exposure to an antigen
inability, unfitness - lacking the power to perform
2.ability - possession of the qualities (especially mental qualities) required to do something or get something doneability - possession of the qualities (especially mental qualities) required to do something or get something done; "danger heightened his powers of discrimination"
cognition, knowledge, noesis - the psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning
know-how - the (technical) knowledge and skill required to do something
leadership - the ability to lead; "he believed that leadership can be taught"
intelligence - the ability to comprehend; to understand and profit from experience
aptitude - inherent ability
bilingualism - the ability to speak two languages colloquially
mental ability, capacity - the power to learn or retain knowledge; in law, the ability to understand the facts and significance of your behavior
creative thinking, creativeness, creativity - the ability to create
originality - the ability to think and act independently
science, skill - ability to produce solutions in some problem domain; "the skill of a well-trained boxer"; "the sweet science of pugilism"
acquirement, skill, accomplishment, attainment, acquisition - an ability that has been acquired by training
hand - ability; "he wanted to try his hand at singing"
superior skill - more than ordinary ability
faculty, mental faculty, module - one of the inherent cognitive or perceptual powers of the mind
inability - lack of ability (especially mental ability) to do something
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.


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. Natural or acquired facility in a specific activity:
Informal: know-how.
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.
قُدْرَةمَقْدِرَةمَهَارَة، مَعْرِفَة
geta, hæfnikunnátta, færni
khả năng


[əˈbɪlɪtɪ] N
1. (= capacity) → aptitud f, capacidad f
ability to paysolvencia f, recursos mpl
his ability in Frenchsu aptitud para el francés
to the best of my abilitylo mejor que pueda or sepa
my ability to do it depends onel que yo lo haga depende de ...
2. (= talent) a boy of abilityun chico de talento
he has great abilitytiene un gran talento (for para) abilitiestalento m, dotes fpl
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


[əˈbɪlɪti] n
(= capability) → capacité f, aptitude f
abilities (= competence) → compétences fpl
one's ability to do sth → sa capacité de faire qch, son aptitude à faire qch
to have the ability to do sth → être capable de faire qch
to have the ability to see → être capable de voir
to the best of my ability, to the best of my abilities → de mon mieux
(= skill, talent) → talent m
a footballer of great ability → un footballeur talentueux
Collins English/French Electronic Resource. © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


nFähigkeit f; ability to pay/hearZahlungs-/Hörfähigkeit f; to the best of my abilitynach (besten) Kräften; (with mental activities) → so gut ich es kann; a man of great abilityein sehr fähiger Mann; his ability in Germanseine Fähigkeiten im Deutschen; she has great abilitysie ist ausgesprochen fähig
Collins German Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 7th Edition 2005. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1980 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007


[əˈbɪlɪtɪ] ncapacità f inv, abilità f inv abilities nplcapacità fpl, doti fpl
to the best of my ability → con il massimo impegno
a person of great abilities → una persona molto dotata
Collins Italian Dictionary 1st Edition © HarperCollins Publishers 1995


(əˈbiləti) plural aˈbilities noun
1. the power, knowledge etc to do something. I shall do the job to the best of my ability.
2. a skill. a man of many abilities.
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.


قُدْرَة schopnost evne Fähigkeit ικανότητα aptitud kyky capacité sposobnost abilità 能力 능력 vermogen evne zdolność capacidade, habilidade способность förmåga ความสามารถ yetenek khả năng 能力
Multilingual Translator © HarperCollins Publishers 2009


n. habilidad, aptitud; talento, capacidad.
English-Spanish Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


n (pl -ties) capacidad f, habilidad f; — to drive capacidad para manejar
English-Spanish/Spanish-English Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight, is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment, and disposition of business.
Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.
Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves; on the other, a victory that is complete.
Such dominions thus acquired are either accustomed to live under a prince, or to live in freedom; and are acquired either by the arms of the prince himself, or of others, or else by fortune or by ability.
Grateful for these favors, the animals determined to repay him to the best of their ability. For this purpose, they divided the term of his life between them, and each endowed one portion of it with the qualities which chiefly characterized himself.
Some have felt that these blundering lives are due to the inconvenient indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has fashioned the natures of women: if there were one level of feminine incompetence as strict as the ability to count three and no more, the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude.
Colonel Lloyd's slaves would boast his ability to buy and sell Jacob Jepson.
The consequence clearly is that there can be no common measure of national wealth, and, of course, no general or stationary rule by which the ability of a state to pay taxes can be determined.
My captor, whose name was Tars Tarkas, was virtually the vice-chieftain of the community, and a man of great ability as a statesman and warrior.
This fact, and the similar occurrence during my first talk with Tars Tarkas, convinced me that we had at least something in common; the ability to smile, therefore to laugh; denoting a sense of humor.
The purpose of the study reported in this article was to compare the career planning validity of test estimates of six abilities typically included in ability test batteries with the validity of the six test estimates plus self-estimates for nine additional abilities.
Maybe, he thought, one would be the ability to rule over mankind.