abil·​i·​ty | \ ə-ˈbi-lə-tē How to pronounce ability (audio) \
plural abilities

Definition of ability

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the quality or state of being able the ability of the soil to hold water especially : physical, mental, or legal power to do something a writer's ability to engage the reader's interest did the work to the best of her ability [=as well as she could]
b : competence in doing something : skill artistic abilities
2 : natural aptitude or acquired proficiency students with different abilities


noun suffix
variants: or less commonly -ibility

Definition of -ability (Entry 2 of 2)

: capacity, fitness, or tendency to act or be acted on in a (specified) way agglutinability

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Examples of ability in a Sentence

Noun a young woman with many remarkable musical abilities a young woman of great musical ability She has shown some ability with foreign languages.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Our mind’s ability to create excessive worry and anxiety hijack our capabilities to be focused, clear and compassionate. Janice Marturano, Forbes, 8 Sep. 2021 That's tricky because while real-world data shows the vaccines used in the U.S. remain strongly protective against severe disease and death, the vaccines' ability to prevent milder infection is dropping. Compiled Democrat-gazette Staff From Wire Reports, Arkansas Online, 8 Sep. 2021 While Eovaldi surrendered just four hits in his seven innings, Rays starter Shane McClanahan allowed just three, despite the Red Sox’ ability to square him up. BostonGlobe.com, 8 Sep. 2021 Three in particular tend to resonate year after year, beloved by World's Best voters for their rugged beauty and ability to whisk travelers away from the daily grind. Rebecca Ascher-walsh, Travel + Leisure, 8 Sep. 2021 Though Zellweger herself hasn't said anything publicly yet, Anstead gushed about his boo's ability to keep her private life out of the spotlight. Jenna Ryu, USA TODAY, 8 Sep. 2021 Dantonio said Haller displayed problem-solving ability in his time both as a police officer and within the athletic department. Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press, 8 Sep. 2021 But as potentially great as Bentley and Tolbert are, eventually defenses will begin to take away the deep pass if the Jaguars show no ability or inclination to run. Creg Stephenson | Cstephenson@al.com, al, 8 Sep. 2021 But 39% of that group lost neutralizing ability against the Beta variant and 34% were similarly helpless against the Gamma variant. Jeffrey Kluger, Time, 7 Sep. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ability.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of ability


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ability


Middle English ablete, abilite, habilite "suitability, proficiency, ability," borrowed from Anglo-French abilité, borrowed from Latin habilitāt-, habilitās "aptitude," from habilis "easy to handle, adaptable, fit" + -tāt-, -tās -ty — more at able

Noun suffix

Middle English -ablete, -abilite, -iblete, -ibilite, borrowed from Anglo-French -ableté, -abilité, -ibleté, -ibilité, borrowed from Latin -abilitās, -ibilitās, from -abilis, -ibilis -able + -tās -ty

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Time Traveler for ability

Time Traveler

The first known use of ability was in the 14th century

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Statistics for ability

Last Updated

11 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ability.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ability. Accessed 19 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for ability


abil·​i·​ty | \ ə-ˈbi-lə-tē How to pronounce ability (audio) \
plural abilities

Kids Definition of ability

1 : power to do something The cleaner has the ability to kill germs.
2 : natural talent or acquired skill great musical ability


noun suffix
variants: also -ibility \ ə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē \
plural -abilities also -ibilities

Kids Definition of -ability

: ability, fitness, or likeliness to act or be acted upon in (such) a way capability visibility

Choose the Right Synonym for ability


ability and talent mean physical or mental power to do or accomplish something. ability may be used of an inborn power to do something especially well. Many athletes have the ability to run fast. talent is used for an unusual ability to create things. You should develop your talent for writing short stories.

More from Merriam-Webster on ability

Nglish: Translation of ability for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ability for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about ability


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