Ability, capability, and capacity all revolve around a central premise of power, skill, or production of an action. It’s a good part of the reason why it’s so easy to experience word confusion.
Ability is “the quality or state of being able” to perform physically, mentally, or legally in a particular area. The skill may be natural or acquired and either mental or physical. The person, animal, or object is already able to perform.
Capability is the “quality or state of being capable”, of having the potential that can be developed.
Capacity primarily relates to the measure of a container’s ability to hold volume or quantities. A more general interpretation is the native potential to develop a mental skill. It’s not a characteristic that can be acquired or developed.
Consider the Following
|I have the ability to write.
I’ve always been interested in writing, and I took some classes.
|I don’t have the capability to write a novel.
My skill is in poetry, not creating a fictional story.
|As an able writer, I do have the capacity to write a novel, but I don’t want to.
I don’t want to put the mental effort into writing a long story.
|Her computer has an Ethernet port so it has the ability to access the Internet.
It has a network card, and someone has to connect it to a modem with a CAT-5 cable.
|She made sure her computer had no online capabilities so no one could ever hack into it.
No one would ever be able to hook the computer up to the Internet as it had no network card.
|Her home network has the capacity to support one laptop, one cell phone, and an iPad. If she wants to add a wireless printer, she’s out of luck.
Her modem can only handle so many wireless devices.
|You don’t have the ability to care.
He never even took a CPR class and hasn’t the first clue about first aid.
|You don’t have the capability to care.
She faints at the sight of blood.
|You don’t have the capacity to care.
He’s a psychopath with no room for human kindness.
Word Confusions started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.
|Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster: capability and capacity; Dictionary.com: capability and capacity|
|Part of Grammar:|
Noun plural: abilities
Noun plural: capabilities
|Adjective 3; Noun 4
Noun plural: capacities
[Noun singular, with infinitive] Possession of the means or skill to do something
Talent, skill, or proficiency in a particular area
|Quality or state of being capable
Power or ability to do something
Ability to undergo or be affected by a given treatment or action
Qualities, abilities, features, etc., that can be used or developed
Reaching maximum capacity
[Medicine] The measure of potential cubic contents of a capacity or receptacle
The ability or power to do, produce, experience, or understand something
[Noun singular] A specified role or position
The manager had lost his ability to motivate the players.
address ￫ addressability
applicable ￫ applicability
inadvisable ￫ inadvisability
marketable ￫ marketability
persuade ￫ persuadability
suitable ￫ suitability
supportable ￫ supportability
|He had an intuitive capability of bringing the best out in people.
This innovation has the capability to increase productivity.
The job is beyond my capabilities.
The graphics card gives this computer a tremendous graphics capability.
Do not underestimate their nuclear weapons capability.
It has the capability to replace twenty men.
As a group we have the capability of accomplishing more than as a single individual.
I love that my DVR has the capability to record two programs at once.
Though dilapidated, the house has great capabilities.
It gives the glass the capability of resisting high heat.
It was a capacity audience.
The show attracted a capacity crowd.
The stadium’s seating capacity.
The room was filled to capacity.
They played to a capacity crowd.
The company aimed to double its electricity-generating capacity.
When running at full capacity, the factory will employ 450 people.
I was impressed by her capacity for hard work.
His capacity to inspire trust in others is mind blowing.
Their intellectual capacities have begun to fill.
In cases where a patient’s testamentary capacity is in doubt, a court-appointed psychiatrist will assess their capability.
I was engaged in a voluntary capacity.
Writing in his capacity as legal correspondent, he used a lot of five-dollar words.
The total capacity of a channel may be shared between several independent data streams using some kind of multiplexing.
Noun: subability, subabilities
|Adjective: capable, incapable
Adverb: capably, incapably
Noun: capableness, incapableness, incapability, overcapability, overcapabilities, supercability, supercabilities
|Adjective: capacitative, capacitive|
|History of the Word:|
|1 Late Middle English from the Old French ablete, from the Latin habilitas, from habilis meaning able.||First known use: 1587
From the Middle French capabilité, from the Late Latin capābili (capable + -ty).
|3 First known use: 1897|
C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?