from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Lacking the necessary ability, capacity, or power.
  • adjective Unable to perform adequately; incompetent.
  • adjective Not susceptible to action or treatment.
  • adjective Not meeting the physical and mental requirements imposed by law for the performance of a particular task.
  • adjective Not meeting the requirements necessary for proper legal functioning.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Not capable.
  • Lacking sufficient capacity or capaciousness; insufficient, unfit, or unqualified: in this and the succeeding uses commonly followed by of.
  • Not capable of receiving or admitting; not susceptible: as, his lot is incapable of amelioration.
  • Not capable of understanding or comprehending; wanting appreciation; unconscious.
  • Not capable legally; unqualified; disqualified by law; wanting legal warrant or capacity.
  • Synonyms Incapable, Unable. Incapable properly denotes a want of passive power, the power of receiving, and is applicable particularly to the mind, or said of something inanimate: as, a body once dead is incapable of restoration to life. The word often applies to moral inability: as, he is quite incapable of doing a thing so base; or otherwise it approaches essentially the more active meanings of unable. Unable denotes the want of active power or power of performing, being applicable to the body or to the mind: we could not say that Achilles was unable to be wounded, but we could say that Achilles was incapable of a wound. In law capable and incapable refer more frequently to legal qualification, able and unable to physical facility or hindrance: as, a man may not be legally incapable of doing an act, yet from circumstances be practically unable to do it.
  • noun One who lacks mental or physical capacity, either general or special.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adjective Lacking in ability or qualification for the purpose or end in view; not large enough to contain or hold; deficient in physical strength, mental or moral power, etc.; not capable
  • adjective Not capable of being brought to do or perform, because morally strong or well disposed; -- used with reference to some evil.
  • adjective Not in a state to receive; not receptive; not susceptible; not able to admit
  • adjective (Law) Unqualified or disqualified, in a legal sense
  • adjective (Mil.) As a term of disgrace, sometimes annexed to a sentence when an officer has been cashiered and rendered incapable of serving his country.
  • noun One who is morally or mentally weak or inefficient; an imbecile; a simpleton.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective Not capable (of doing something); unable.
  • noun dated One who is morally or mentally weak or inefficient; an imbecile; a simpleton.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adjective (followed by `of') not having the temperament or inclination for
  • adjective not meeting requirements
  • adjective not being susceptible to or admitting of something (usually followed by `of')
  • adjective (followed by `of') lacking capacity or ability


Sorry, no etymologies found.



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  • I came across this in the local press:

    "A man was arrested in the city centre for being drunk and incapable at the weekend."

    I asked a local Bobby what this actually meant. "Well, drunk means drunk," he said. I presume this is not a crime, otherwise you would have to arrest Scotland. "Incapable means he couldn't stand up by himself. In these cases we call it in, they're picked up and sent to the shelter."

    December 12, 2007