Capable vs. Competent

Is anyone else being driven batty by the confusing use of the two words “capability” and “competency?” Are they different or are they interchangeable? And, is it important?

It reminds me of the confusing use of “vision” and “mission” — or “goal” and “objective.” I have gotten around this confusion by accommodating whatever word usage the group is accustomed to, thinking that it is easier for one person to adapt to an already existing common language, than it is for many people to adapt to my usage.

So on to Capable vs. Competent. Here are the definitions (as proposed by Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation) and our interpretations.

ca·pa·ble (adj)

- Definition:
1. good at a particular task or job or at a number of different things
2. possessing the qualities needed to do a particular thing
3. permitting or susceptible to something
4. the ability or the legal power to do something

- Synonyms: Able, competent
- Antonym: Incapable

com·pe·tent (adj)

- Definition:
1. having enough skill or ability to do something
2. good enough or suitable for something
3. accepted by a court as credible, legally qualified, or within somebody’s capacity
4. able to carry out its normal functions effectively

- Synonyms: Capable, able, knowledgeable, experienced, skilled, proficient, fit, expert, adept,
- Antonym: Inept

As a metaphor we can consider the case of a young person and driving. My 16-year-old daughter is Capable of driving but that doesn’t mean I think of her as a Competent driver.

Our interpretation suggests that we are Capable of doing something and that we are Competent at or in doing something. So it follows that Competence is when I can demonstrate with certainty, over time, that I will succeed in or perform Capably.

With “competent” as a synonym for “capable” it is no wonder that we might be confused.

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