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

In my view, General Prayuth has all the qualifications, competence and integrity. Anna Fifield, Washington Post, "Will Thailand’s general-prime minister make good on his latest promise to hold elections?," 15 Apr. 2018 The two dueling operating systems have more or less converged into bland, uniform competence, and the age of the hip-and-exclusive iOS-only app are all but over. Eric Limer, Popular Mechanics, "Google Is Bringing Android's Best Feature to the iPhone," 14 Feb. 2019 In the House, a competition among Appropriations Committee members to succeed retiring Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen is spurring a useful race for competence. Kimberley A. Strassel, WSJ, "Trump Goes on a Spending Diet," 7 June 2018 In December, a forensic psychologist who evaluated hundreds of defendants for mental competence was reassigned after the Council for Court Excellence raised questions about her educational background. Fenit Nirappil, Washington Post, "Report faults District’s treatment of mentally ill people in criminal justice system," 26 Feb. 2018 That risks gauging competence in only one kind of work, however. Sue Shellenbarger, WSJ, "Companies Hire on Potential—If Only They Knew What That Meant," 12 Mar. 2019 The problem isn’t just Western governments reaching the limits of their competence (though that’s a factor that bears careful consideration). Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "The Lessons of ‘Dieselgate’," 4 Jan. 2019 The race has centered less on policy disputes than on the question of Ige’s and Hanabusa’s relative levels of competence. Dylan Matthews, Vox, "Hawaii primary elections: live results for governor and House races," 11 Aug. 2018 The competence of the Bip's heart rate monitor isn't strong enough to earn users' full trust, and the onboard GPS is slower than most. Valentina Palladino, Ars Technica, "Amazfit Bip review: One peculiar week with a $99 smartwatch," 21 Mar. 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

circa 1640, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for competence

see competent

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Statistics for competence

Last Updated

8 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for competence

The first known use of competence was circa 1640

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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 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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