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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.


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


(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]



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)

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


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]


1. Physical, mental, financial, or legal power to perform:
2. Law. Conferred power:
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


[ˈkɒmpɪtəns] ncompétence f


, 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


[ˈkɒmpɪtns] competency [ˈkɒmpɪtnsɪ] ncompetenza


(ˈkompətənt) adjective
capable; skilled. a competent pianist; competent to drive a car.
ˈcompetence noun
ˈcompetently adverb
References in classic literature ?
Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned."
When I remarked on her competence, she told me with that pleasant little smile of hers that for a while she had worked in a hospital.
There was no natural disinclination to be overcome, and I see no reason why a man should make a worse clergyman for knowing that he will have a competence early in life.
He had probably devoted more time than any one else to the study of this intricate and fascinating question; but study alone could not account for his complete and easy competence. One had only to look at him, from the slant of his bald forehead and the curve of his beautiful fair moustache to the long patent-leather feet at the other end of his lean and elegant person, to feel that the knowledge of "form" must be congenital in any one who knew how to wear such good clothes so carelessly and carry such height with so much lounging grace.
When asked by the curious for testimony to his competence and respectability, he recklessly referred them to Fairholme, to Josephs, and in particular to Miss Wilson, who, he said, had known him from his earliest childhood.
It assured him first of the competence which Lord Greystoke had promised to pay him for the deportation of the ape, and then of revenge upon his benefactor through the son he idolized.
When, however, they began to pass into a new region, his old fears of stupidity and in- competence reassailed him, but this time he dog- gedly let them babble.
In short, the whole country was exhibiting the bustle of a thriving settlement, where the highways were thronged with sleighs, bearing piles of rough household furniture, studded, here and there, with the smiling faces of women and children, happy in the excitement of novelty; or with loads of produce, hastening to the common market at Albany, that served as so many snares to induce the emigrants to enter into those wild mountains in search of competence and happiness.
The profits of his office and the sale of Ginevra's pictures gave the young couple a competence of which they were justly proud, for it was the fruit of their industry.
Warren, and having made a competence she now lived the quiet life of the bourgeoise.
I had never heard of your existence; but I had known your father; and from matters in my competence (to be touched upon hereafter) I was disposed to fear the worst.
With the small competence he possessed, eked out by such employment as he could pick up, he travelled from town to town through the United States in quest of his enemies.

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