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Word Difference

Capability vs. Ability – What’s the Difference?

Posted: October 21, 2018 at 12:04 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

When to Use Ability

What does ability mean? Ability is a noun. It refers to possession of the means or skill to do something.

Someone with superior athletic abilities is very good at sports or other physical games. A writer of great ability is considered to be an excellent writer. In both cases, ability is used to refer to the qualitative nature of the person.

Here are a few more examples,

  • My ability to mow the lawn is dependent on my access to my neighbor’s lawn mower.
  • Research shows that, on average, men are likely to have stronger spatial reasoning abilities than women, although psychologists disagree on the cause and degree of this difference.
  • Snap Inc., in its first quarterly report as a public company, showed it struggled to maintain strong user growth at its Snapchat vanishing-messaging app, sending shares tumbling and sparking worries about its ability to challenge social-media titan Facebook Inc.

As I mentioned above, ability is considered a qualitative marker, not a quantitative marker. To again take our above example, if someone were a writer of great ability, this would mean that he or she could write well. It makes no comment on the amount to which he or she can write, only to the quality of the writing.

This is important to note: ability is a qualitative marker.

When to Use Capability

What does capability mean? Capability is also a noun, and it also refers to the ability to do something. The difference between capability and ability is usually one of pragmatics.

Capability usually refers to either/or propositions in a potential scenario: a corrupt regime may have nuclear capabilities. It can either launch nuclear missiles, or it cannot. A fighter jet may also have stealth capability. It either has this capability, or it does not. In this sense, capability is a quantitative marker.

For example,

  • Our long-range missile network gives us first strike capability around the world.
  • People who are telekinetic have the capability to kill you with their minds.
  • Computer researchers reported artificial-intelligence advances on Thursday that surpassed human capabilities for a narrow set of vision-related tasks.
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