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The wicked are always surprised to find ability in the good. ~ Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues

Ability can refer to the capability of performing or achieving certain actions or outcomes through a set of controllable and measurable faculties, features, functions, processes, or services, or to aptitude and definite levels of competence in performing such kinds of work.

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In dreams and in love there are no impossibilities. ~ János Arany
  • Álomban és szerelemben nincs lehetetlenség.
    • In dreams and in love there are no impossibilities.
      • János Arany, as quoted in Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893) by James Wood, p. 11.


  • Natural abilities are like natural plants; they need pruning by study.
  • Knowing what you can not do is more important than knowing what you can do. In fact, that's good taste.
    • Lucille Ball, as quoted in The Real Story of Lucille Ball (1954) by Eleanor Harris, Ch. 1.
  • He'll find a way.
    • J. M. Barrie, Sentimental Tommy, indicating the Corp's belief in Tommy and Tommy's in himself.
  • In the last analysis, ability is commonly found to consist mainly in a high degree of solemnity.
  • De chacun selon ses facultés, à chacun selon ses besoins;
    • German: Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen
    • English: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
    • Louis Blanc's Plus de Girondins, (1851), p. 92 popularized by Karl Marx in (1875). "Part I". Critique of the Gotha Program.
  • Man is not altogether an imbecile. True, "circumstances do make the man." But they make him only in the sense and degree that he permits them to make him.
    • George D. Boardman, reported in Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895) by Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, p. 1.
  • Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, ought to give us ground to presume ability.
    • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).
  • For as our modern wits behold,
    Mounted a pick-back on the old,
    Much farther off, much further he,
    Rais'd on his aged Beast, could see.
  • He could raise scruples dark and nice,
    And after solve 'em in a trice:
    As if Divinity had catch'd
    The itch, on purpose to be scratch'd.


  • You are a devil at everything, and there is no kind of thing in the 'versal world but what you can turn your hand to.
  • Natural ability without education has more often attained to glory and virtue than education without natural ability.
  • Etiam illud adjungo, sæpius ad laudem atque virtutem naturam sine doctrina, quam sine natura valisse doctrinam.
    • I add this also, that natural ability without education has oftener raised man to glory and virtue, than education without natural ability.
      • Cicero, Oratio Pro Licinio Archia, VII.
  • The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant, when he has the Giant's shoulders to mount on.
    • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Friend; A Series of Essays (1812), No. 15 (30 November 1809), p. 228; comparable to Isaac Newton, in a letter to Robert Hooke (15 February 1676): "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants".


  • I don't even know how to use a parking meter, let alone a phone box.
    • Diana, Princess of Wales, as quoted in The Times (22 August 1994), replying to allegations that she had been making nuisance telephone calls.
  • Every person is responsible for only the good within his abilities, and for no more, and no one can tell whose sphere is the largest.
    • Mary Abigail Dodge,Country Living and Country Thinking, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th edition (1919).
  • Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.


  • Our chief want in life is somebody who shall make us do what we can.


  • One should oblige everyone to the extent of one's ability. One often needs someone smaller than oneself.
  • As we advance in life, we learn the limits of our abilities.


  • The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.
    • Edward Gibbon, The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire (1776), Volume 1, Chap. 68.
  • Breath is strange, if you hold it for too long you run out.
    • Yuval Greenfield, The Rise of a great man, early memories (1956), Volume 2, Chap. 14.


  • I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
    • Edward Everett Hale, in Jeanie Ashley Bates Greenough, A Year of Beautiful Thoughts‎ (1902), p. 172. This is often misattributed to Helen Keller since the 1980s.
  • Every person is responsible for all the good within the scope of his abilities, and for no more, and none can tell whose sphere is the largest.
    • Gail Hamilton, Country Living and Country Thinking, Men and Women.
  • A Dwarf on a Giant's shoulder sees farther of the two.
  • Every man who can be a first-rate something - as every man can be who is a man at all - has no right to be a fifth-rate something; for a fifth-rate something is not better than a first-rate nothing.
  • There is something that is much more scarce, something finer far, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability.
    • Elbert Hubbard, "The Crying Need", in A Message to Garcia, and Thirteen Other Things (1901), p. 163.
  • One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.
    • Elbert Hubbard, A thousand & one epigrams, selected from the writings of Elbert Hubbard (1911).





  • The art of using moderate abilities to advantage wins praise, and often acquires more reputation than actual brilliancy.
  • C'est une grande habileté que de savoir cacher son habileté.
  • What we do upon a great occasion will probably depend upon what we already are; what we are will be the result of previous years of self-discipline, under the grace of Christ or the absence of it.
    • Henry Liddon, as reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 1.
  • To the very last, he [Napoleon] had a kind of idea; that, namely, of la carrière ouverte aux talentsthe tools to him that can handle them.
  • We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.



  • Our vanity desires that what we do best should be considered what is hardest for us.



  • Competence, like truth, beauty and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Rust Cohle: Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at.
  • A Traveler at Sparta, standing long upon one leg, said to a Lacedaemonian, "I do not believe you can do as much."
    "True," said he, "but every goose can."
    • Plutarch, as attributed in "Apophthegmata Laconica" (a.k.a. "Laconic Apothegms" or "Sayings of the Spartans"), Remarkable Speeches of Some Obscure Men, in Moralia.


  • Illud tamen in primis testandum est, nihil præcepta atque artes valere nisi adjuvante natura.
    • One thing, however, I must premise, that without the assistance of natural capacity, rules and precepts are of no efficacy.


  • Die Menschen gehen wie Schiesskugeln weiter, wenn sie abgeglättet sind.
    • Men, like bullets, go farthest when they are smoothest.


  • Parvus pumilio, licet in monte constiterit; colossus magnitudinem suam servabit, etiam si steterit in puteo.
    • A dwarf is small even if he stands on a mountain; a colossus keeps his height, even if he stands in a well.
  • Martyrdom... is the only way in which a man can become famous without ability.
  • The world is like a board with holes in it, and the square men have got into the round holes.
  • Edwards: All right. I'm in because there's some next-level shit going on around here, and I'm with that. Before you beam me up, there are a couple of things we need to get straight. You chose me 'cause you recognize the skills. So as of now you can cease with all of that calling me "son" or "kid" or "sport." Cool?
K: Cool, slick. Now about those skills of yours...(The elevator doors slide open on Men in Black headquarters.) As of this moment, they don't mean much.
  • We shall generally find that the triangular person has got into the square hole, the oblong into the triangular, and a square person has squeezed himself into the round hole.
  • A man must not deny his manifest abilities, for that is to evade his obligations.


  • I think you are gonna find, when it's over... I think you're gonna find yourself one smilin' motherfucker. The thing is Butch, right now, you've got ability. But painful as it may be, ability don't last. And your days are just about over. Now that's a hard motherfuckin' fact of life. But it's a fact of life your ass is gonna hafta get realistic about. See this business is filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfuckers. Motherfuckers who thought their ass would age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don't. Besides Butch, how many fights you think you got left in you anyway? Two? Boxers don't have an 'old timer's day.' You came close, but you never made it, and if you were gonna make it, you woulda made it before now.
    • Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction, character Marsellus Wallace.
  • Read my little fable:
    He that runs may read.
    Most can raise the flowers now,
    For all have got the seed.



  • Les méchants sont toujours surpris de trouver de l'habileté dans les bons.
  • Possunt, quia posse videntur.
    • They are able because they think they are able.


We all have ability. The difference is how we use it. ~ Stevie Wonder
  • Men are often capable of greater things than they perform. They are sent into the world with bills of credit, and seldom draw to their full extent.
    • Horace Walpole, as quoted in "The Works of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford" in The Monthly Review, or, Literary Journal, Volume 27 (1798) edited by Ralph Griffiths, p. 187.
  • I had never doubted my own abilities, but I was quite prepared to believe that "the world" would decline to recognize them.
  • We all have ability. The difference is how we use it.
    • Stevie Wonder, as quoted in The Story of Stevie Wonder (1976) by James Haskins, Ch. 1 : Growing Up in a World of Darkness.



  • Who does the best his circumstance allows
    Does well, acts nobly; angels could no more.
    • Edward Young, Night Thoughts (1742–1745), "Night II", line 91.


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