Distinguishing Capacity & Capability

Capacity and capability are two terms that often cause confusion due to their similar meanings and usage in similar contexts. Despite this, there are distinct differences between the two, which will be explained in this article to help readers choose the appropriate term when speaking or writing in English.


When referring to capacity, one might find definitions such as the power to hold, accommodate, or receive something. For instance, the capacity of a container is the amount of liquid it can hold, measured in liters. This sense of the word is typically limited to containers, bags, tanks of vehicles, and so on. The number of seats in an auditorium or the number of people that can sit on a bus describe the capacities of those spaces.

Capacity can also be used to describe a person’s abilities or powers to do or understand something, such as having a great capacity for hard work or the capacity to lift heavy loads.


Capability is a feature, ability, or competence that can be developed in a person. It might refer to an existing ability that can be improved upon. For example, a sprinter may finish a 100m race in 11 seconds, but their coach believes they have the capability to do it in less than 10 seconds. Teachers and coaches often select their students or athletes based on their capabilities, or their potential to develop or improve.

A newly discovered drug might be described as having the capability to treat a serious disease, even if it cannot be used immediately due to side effects. Similarly, a metal may have the capability to be used in space applications because of its properties, with some modifications. Capability is the sum of the present or existing ability or capacity, plus the individual’s expertise to go further.

Key Takeaways

  • Capacity is the ability that exists at present, while capability refers to the higher level of ability that an individual can achieve or improve to.
  • Capacity is the ability to hold, accommodate, or receive, as in the capacity of a container or a bottle.
  • If a person is said to be capable of learning many languages, it speaks to their potential to learn those languages.
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard is an accomplished writer with expertise in creating engaging articles and content across various platforms. His dedication to research and crafting high-quality content has led to over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience. In his personal life, Gil enjoys connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. His curiosity and eagerness to learn from others fuel his passion for communication. He believes that engaging with strangers can be both enlightening and enjoyable, making it easier to strike up conversations and expand one's horizons.


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