com·​pe·​tence | \ˈkäm-pə-tən(t)s \

Definition of competence 

1 : a sufficiency of means for the necessities and conveniences of life " … money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction … "— Jane Austen

2 : the quality or state of being competent: such as

a : the properties of an embryonic field that enable it to respond in a characteristic manner to an organizer

b : readiness of bacteria to undergo genetic transformation

3 : the knowledge that enables a person to speak and understand a language has demonstrated competence in conversational Arabic — compare performance sense 6

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Examples of competence in a Sentence

He trusts in the competence of his doctor. questioned his competence to finish the task without help

Recent Examples on the Web

But a much more common situation is for authoritarians to appoint people to positions of authority based on considerations of loyalty and regime stability rather than competence. Matthew Yglesias, Vox, "Trump’s incompetence and authoritarianism are both scary," 15 Nov. 2018 Josef seems the polar opposite: meek and seemingly frail despite obvious competence as a formidable foil to the management protecting whatever secrets lie within. Nathan Mattise, Ars Technica, "Suspiria and Border offer two very different tales of otherworldly creatures," 26 Oct. 2018 Bean is a version of Leela; both have poor impulse control that gets in the way of their otherwise quick wits and overall competence. Samantha Nelson, The Verge, "Disenchantment lacks the magic of Netflix’s other animated originals," 7 Aug. 2018 Cal Bears Upward trajectory continues in overall competence, but the Bears remain two more recruiting cycles away from contending. Jon Wilner Pac-12 Hotline, The Seattle Times, "Jon Wilner’s Pac-12 preseason ballot: Why I’m picking Washington to win the North," 23 July 2018 In three similar rulings, the commission found Jan. 10 that Hagstette, Wallace and Licata failed to comply with the law, maintain professional competence and adhered too strictly to elected judges’ directives not to issue personal bonds. Gabrielle Banks, Houston Chronicle, "Texas Attorney General wants Harris County magistrates’ lawsuit over bail practices dismissed," 18 June 2018 The financial crisis has destroyed the centre’s reputation for economic competence. The Economist, "Britain doesn’t need a new centrist party. It needs new ideas," 12 Apr. 2018 Channel kids down the same standardized path, impairing their ability to leave school able to create and develop their own path forward — arguably the most important competence young adults need in a world where careers come and go. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, "Venture capitalist visits 200 schools in 50 states and says DeVos is wrong: ‘If choice and competition improve schools, I found no sign of it.’," 15 Mar. 2018 Regardless of his competence, Selmayr’s nomination embodies the concerns of many euroskeptics. Lorne Cook, The Seattle Times, "Watchdog lambasts European Commission over top job choice," 4 Sep. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'competence.' 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 competence

1605, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for competence

see competent

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Statistics for competence

Last Updated

4 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for competence

The first known use of competence was in 1605

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More Definitions for competence



English Language Learners Definition of competence

: the ability to do something well : the quality or state of being competent


com·​pe·​tence | \ˈkäm-pə-təns \

Kids Definition of competence

: the quality or state of being capable


com·​pe·​tence | \ˈkäm-pət-ən(t)s \

Medical Definition of competence 

: the quality or state of being functionally adequate assess the competence of the immune system : as

a : the properties of an embryonic field that enable it to respond in a characteristic manner to an organizer

b : readiness of bacteria to undergo genetic transformation

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com·​pe·​tence | \ˈkäm-pə-təns \

Legal Definition of competence 

: the quality or state of being competent: as

a : possession of sufficient knowledge or skill

b : legal authority, ability, or admissibility a court of general competence the competence of witnesses challenge the competence of the evidence

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Comments on competence

What made you want to look up competence? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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