Can you use competent in the context of an inanimate object such as an instruction manual, or a voltmeter?

e.g. "In my opinion Standard 12345 is considered a competent document." or "The potentials can easily be measured using a competent voltmeter."

Thank you.

  • There is a fairly narrow and legalistic usage for this. If there are a bunch of regs issued by various bodies covering the same issue, one needs to sort out the competent authority, and their regulation can be called the competent regulation. So the simple definition would be that it refers to the relevant one or the one that is in force when there are a number of competing regulations. Competent means there is a trail of authority back to the competent authority. – Phil Sweet May 25 '16 at 4:38

Link to definition

I would say that competent is primarily associate with acquired skills. For something to be competent, perhaps consider whether it can also be incompetent. I think you would be better off using a more applicable synonym such as "sufficient", "adequate", or "functional". You wouldn't say you had an incompetent voltmeter, instead you would say you have a non-functioning voltmeter. And a set of standards would be adequate to manage a procedure.

However here is an example of how you may be able to use it in terms of the Standards document.

1.3(Chiefly of a court or other body) accepted as having legal authority to deal with a particular matter. Example: the governor was not the competent authority to deal with the matter. Link


You could, but I don't think it would be really correct. While competent can be used with inanimate objects, they're typically bodies made up of people who collectively exhibit that competence, e.g. a competent body, a competent committee, a competent government (no laughing at the back there!).

I think you'd be better off with suitable, appropriate or similar.

Suitable: Right or appropriate for a particular person, purpose, or situation


Appropriate: Suitable or proper in the circumstances

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