Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Capability and Competency

Capability vs Competency

“Competency” and “capability” are two terms that pertain to human ability. They are often mentioned in many Human Resource-related materials as well as in career and job communications.

“Capability” is the term that describes the quality of being capable. It is the condition that permits an individual to acquire power and ability to learn and do something within his capacity. “Capability” is also known as implied abilities or abilities which are not yet developed.

A person with a capability has a potential to acquire a specific ability or skill that will be helpful in a task. The learned skill or ability adds to a person’s knowledge bank or skill set. Capabilities also increase the functions of a person which can lead to more productivity. New skills and abilities make a person more capable to complete a certain task or they are a more suitable candidate for a job position.

In time and practice, capabilities can develop into competence. It serves as the starting point of being able to do something and gradually becoming more adept in performing a task.

“Capability” came from the Middle French word “capabilité” and late Latin word “capābili”. The word was first used in 1587. However, its meaning in today’s usage (underdeveloped skill or faculty) only evolved and was used starting from 1778.

On the other hand, “competence” is the state or quality of an individual’s work. A person and his work can be evaluated as competent if the performance is considered as “satisfactory,” but not “outstanding.” Competence can also be applied to the improvement or development of a one’s abilities and skills for the benefit of the person and the group or institution that he or she represents. The improved skills and abilities are applied to tasks or jobs.

Competence can also result in an increased quality of work or performance. In return, the work and performance will produce more satisfying and favorable results from other parties like clients, bosses, and other important people.

Competence starts from a person’s capabilities. In a sense, competence is the proven abilities and improved capabilities. Competence can include a combination of knowledge, basic requirements (capabilities), skills, abilities, behavior, and attitude.

“Competence,” as a word has its origins in 1632 from the French word “competence” (meaning of sufficient living in ease) and further in the Latin “competentia” (which means agreement or symmetry). However, the modern meaning of the word (sufficiency to deal with the situation or with a task) didn’t come until 1790.


1. “Capability” and “competence” are two manifestations of human abilities and skills. Both words are often met in job advertisements or personnel assessments.

2. “Capability” is the condition of having the capacity to do something. Within this condition there is a potential for improvement of skills. They are also called “implied abilities.” On the other hand, “competence” is the improved version of “capability.” In this condition, the person can do a specific skill or task with efficiency and effectiveness. “Competence” means the degree of skill in the task’s performance.

3. Capabilities lead to competence. An individual with capability can add a skill set or knowledge by learning and practicing. Competence serves as the result of the application of capabilities.

4. ”Capability” mostly refers to skills and abilities. In contrast, “competence” can be a combination of knowledge, behavior, attitude, and skills.

5. Capabilities are seen as “generic” while competence is more in the field of “specialist.”

6. Both “capability” and “competence” as words are derived from French and Latin roots. Another interesting similarity is that both words have earlier meanings rather than a current, modern meaning. In particular, competence’s modern meaning has only evolved in 1790, but the word was already in usage since 1632. For “capability,” it has been used since 1587, but it took almost 197 years (in 1778) to come to its new and modern meaning.

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1 Comment

  1. THANK YOU! Finally I found text which confirmed my research 🙂 It helped me a lot as English is not my first language. I had feeling that in business articles capability and competence are totally mixed and used without proper understanding 🙂 Thank you for your help and analysis.

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