com·​pe·​tence | \ ˈkäm-pə-tən(t)s How to pronounce competence (audio) \

Definition of competence

1 : the quality or state of being competent: such as
a the quality or state of having sufficient knowledge, judgment, skill, or strength (as for a particular duty or in a particular respect) No one denies her competence as a leader. They have demonstrated their competence in their specialty or subspecialty by passing a comprehensive exam …— Rachael Migler
b law : legal authority, ability, or admissibility a matter within the competence of a judge to adjudicate
c : the knowledge that enables a person to speak and understand a language has demonstrated competence in conversational Arabic — compare performance sense 6
d biology : the ability to function or develop in a particular way: such as
(1) embryology : the ability of embryonic cells and tissue to undergo differentiation in response to an organizer (see organizer sense 2)
(2) microbiology : the capability of bacterial cells to take up exogenous DNA during genetic transformation
2 : 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

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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 The government, via Attorney General Tarek William Saab, dismissed the report, telling CNN the organization had no competence to judge the situation in Venezuela. Stefano Pozzebon, Jorge Perez And Audrey Ash, CNN, "Forced disappearances are increasing in Venezuela -- and the coronavirus is making them last longer, rights group says," 26 June 2020 Further, a physician’s cognitive ability—regardless of age—may not accurately reflect his or her competence to practice, said Herbert Rakatansky, who chairs a committee overseeing the Rhode Island Medical Society physician health program. Lola Butcher, Quartz, "Doctors are suing over age-based screening requirements," 25 June 2020 But fear and charisma only work so long as they are accompanied by competence. The Economist, "Bagehot Boris Johnson loses his grip," 20 June 2020 Even small acts of ministerial competence can go a long way in a crisis. Gideon Lewis-kraus, Wired, "How to Make Government Trustworthy Again," 18 June 2020 Health systems and doctors everywhere should be adopting culturally and linguistically appropriate standards to advance cultural competence and effectively care for people of diverse backgrounds. Howard K. Koh, Time, "The COVID-19 Pandemic Shows Why We Must—And How We Can—End Racial Injustice in Health," 18 June 2020 First, diverse lawyers do not enjoy a presumption of competence like others do. Fortune, "A black partner’s perspective on why law firms are failing at diversity," 11 June 2020 Even worse, confirmation bias leads to a suggestion of incompetence for lawyers of color and a presumption of competence for others. Fortune, "A black partner’s perspective on why law firms are failing at diversity," 11 June 2020 The 10-week program emphasizes competence, confidence, connection, character, caring, and contribution in young girls through lessons that incorporate physical activity and goal setting. Shirley Macfarland, cleveland, "Girls on the Run program address social-emotional health of children: Talk of the Towns," 5 June 2020

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

circa 1640, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for competence

see competent

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Time Traveler for competence

Time Traveler

The first known use of competence was circa 1640

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Statistics for competence

Last Updated

30 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Competence.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for competence


How to pronounce competence (audio)

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 How to pronounce competence (audio) \

Kids Definition of competence

: the quality or state of being capable


com·​pe·​tence | \ ˈkäm-pət-ən(t)s How to pronounce competence (audio) \

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 How to pronounce competence (audio) \

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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