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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun But on a global level, Anne Frank was betrayed by all those who had the ability to help Jews and chose not to. Ruth Franklin, The New York Review of Books, 11 May 2022 Amazon reviewers love that this comforter has the ability to keep one sleeping partner warm while cooling the other. Emma Seymour, Good Housekeeping, 10 May 2022 Almost no one has the ability to rock nails as cool as hers. Addison Aloian, Allure, 10 May 2022 Capturing Odessa, a port city on the Black sea, would be a big strategic win for Moscow, though the Pentagon has assessed that Russian forces don’t currently have the ability to launch ground or maritime offensives in the region. Washington Post, 10 May 2022 The lander's incredibly sensitive seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, has the ability to detect marsquakes from hundreds and thousands of miles away. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 10 May 2022 The fact that Slovakia still has these democratic values and people have the ability to protest or write, is really important. Jennie Punter, Variety, 9 May 2022 Beecher said the Native American voting base has the ability to vote and elect candidates who show a willingness to positively engage with tribes and their members. Arlyssa Becenti, The Arizona Republic, 8 May 2022 To have our own facility and have the ability for our students to play and practice in town is huge. Lori Riley, Hartford Courant, 7 May 2022 See More

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.

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

Buying Guide

Our Reviews team has selected the best fitness trackers of 2022.

Learn More About ability

Time Traveler for ability

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near ability




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for ability

Last Updated

14 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Ability.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ability. Accessed 24 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Great Words for Scrabble

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!