Difference Wiki

Able vs. Ability: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 7, 2023
Able is an adjective describing the capacity to do something; ability is a noun referring to skills or competencies.

Key Differences

The word "able" is an adjective that signifies the possession of the means or skill to do something. It implies a level of competence or capacity in an individual or thing. For instance, saying someone is able to lift heavy weights indicates that they have the strength required for the task. Conversely, "ability" is a noun that refers to the possession of the skills or qualities necessary to perform a task. It denotes a more general and often innate potential within a person or object. When we discuss someone's ability to speak multiple languages, we are referring to their linguistic skill set as a whole.
In another context, "able" is used to describe an immediate capability or empowerment in a specific situation. It is often used in the context of whether someone can undertake an action right now or in the near future. "I am able to run a marathon" suggests a present readiness. "Ability," however, encompasses a broader scope, referring to talent or proficiency that may not be immediately relevant or utilized. It encompasses potential that is not limited to the present moment. The "ability to run marathons" encompasses both current and future potential to undertake such an activity.
"able" often requires context to define its scope, as it is contingent on the situation at hand. It can be conditional, influenced by external factors like health or resources. For example, "She is able to complete the project with the available resources" indicates a conditional capacity. "Ability," on the other hand, suggests a more inherent characteristic, less dependent on immediate conditions. It suggests an underlying quality, as in "Her ability to manage projects is well-regarded," which implies a recognized and possibly enduring trait.
When qualifying someone's skillset, "able" is typically used with an infinitive verb to specify the action they can perform, such as in "able to play the piano." This points to a specific skill within a person's repertoire. "Ability" is often followed by the preposition "to" and a noun, such as "ability to play music," which may imply a broader set of skills related to the subject. The ability is the overarching characteristic that can contain many 'ables'; it is the general power or capacity to do something.
"Able" integrates smoothly into the structure of a sentence as a descriptor of an immediate capacity: "She is able to solve complex equations." It is definitive and suggests that the action can be performed if chosen. In contrast, "ability" stands as a conceptual entity, often used to discuss potential in a more abstract sense: "Her ability in mathematics is exceptional." It conveys a sense of a person’s overall potential in a certain domain, regardless of whether this potential is being acted upon at any given moment.

Comparison Chart

Part of Speech



Describes having the power, means, or skill to do something now.
Refers to the possession of the means or skill to do something potentially.


Specifies immediate or current capacity.
Refers to a broader set of skills or competencies.


He is able to solve the problem.
He has the ability to solve complex problems.

Grammatical Position

Typically comes before the verb it modifies.
Can be the subject or object of a sentence.


Temporary and situational.
More permanent and inherent.

Able and Ability Definitions


Having the power, skill, means, or opportunity to do something.
She was able to finish the marathon despite the injury.


The possession of the means or skill to do something.
Her ability to speak multiple languages is impressive.


Legally or officially permitted to do something.
Only those able will be allowed to vote in the election.


The quality of being able to perform; a quality that permits or facilitates achievement.
The ability to stay calm under pressure is essential for a pilot.


Having the necessary means or resources to accomplish something.
With the right tools, they were able to repair the car.


The natural or acquired skill in a particular activity.
Her artistic ability has won her numerous awards.


Having considerable skill, proficiency, or intelligence.
The able scientist made a groundbreaking discovery.


A skill or talent that allows someone to achieve something.
His ability to solve problems quickly made him an excellent manager.


Having the physical strength or fitness to do something.
After months of training, he was able to lift the heavyweight.


A level of competence or skill.
The job requires the ability to handle complex tasks efficiently.


Having sufficient power or resources to accomplish something
A singer able to reach high notes.
A detergent able to remove stains.


The quality of being able to do something, especially the physical, mental, financial, or legal power to accomplish something.


Can 'able' be used as a noun?

No, 'able' is always used as an adjective.

Is 'ability' ever an adjective?

No, 'ability' is not used as an adjective; it is always a noun.

Do 'able' and 'ability' have the same root?

Yes, they both come from the Latin word 'habilis.'

What is the definition of 'ability'?

Ability is a noun meaning the skill or competence to do something well.

How do you use 'able' in a sentence?

Example: "She is able to solve complex equations."

Does 'able' imply a permanent state?

No, 'able' often describes a temporary condition.

What does 'able' mean?

Able is an adjective meaning having the capability to do something.

Can you give an example of 'ability' in a sentence?

Example: "His musical ability has improved over the years."

What is the plural form of 'ability'?

The plural form is 'abilities.'

How does context affect the use of 'able' and 'ability'?

'Able' is used for immediate capacity; 'ability' for general skills.

What are some synonyms for 'ability'?

Proficiency, skill, talent, or knack are some synonyms.

Can 'ability' be improved?

Yes, abilities can often be improved with practice.

Is there a synonym for 'able'?

Yes, synonyms include capable, competent, or qualified.

Is 'ability' used to describe potential or current skill?

Ability usually refers to potential skill.

Is 'able' used in the phrase 'able to'?

Yes, 'able to' is a common construction.

Can 'ability' refer to a specific skill?

Yes, it can refer to a specific skill or a range of skills.

Can 'able' stand alone in a sentence?

Yes, but it must modify a verb, e.g., "She is able."

Can 'ability' be innate?

Yes, some abilities can be innate or developed.

Are 'able' and 'ability' interchangeable?

No, they are used in different grammatical contexts.

Is 'able' ever used in legal contexts?

Yes, it can refer to having legal authority or permission.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons