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adjective la·tent \ˈlā-tənt\

Simple Definition of latent

  • —used to describe something (such as a disease) that exists but is not active or cannot be seen

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of latent

  1. :  present and capable of emerging or developing but not now visible, obvious, active, or symptomatic <a latent infection>

latently adverb

Examples of latent in a sentence

  1. On the ground in Afghanistan there is some latent, if wary, gratitude for American aid over the years, but no one expects to build a foundation for the Taliban's downfall on a couple of million rice cakes. —Michael Duffy, Time, 15 Oct. 2001

  2. There were such inexhaustible possibilities still before her, such opportunities to bring out the latent graces of the old place, without a single irreverent touch of alteration, that the winter months were all too short to plan what spring and autumn executed. —Edith Wharton, Afterward, 1910

  3. Calm, gentle, passionless, as he appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of malice, hitherto latent, but active now, in this unfortunate old man, which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy. —Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, 1850

  4. <he has a latent talent for acting that he hasn't had a chance to express yet>

Origin of latent

Middle English, from Latin latent-, latens, from present participle of latēre to lie hidden; akin to Greek lanthanein to escape notice

First Known Use: 15th century

Synonym Discussion of latent

latent, dormant, quiescent, potential mean not now showing signs of activity or existence. latent applies to a power or quality that has not yet come forth but may emerge and develop <a latent desire for success>. dormant suggests the inactivity of something (as a feeling or power) as though sleeping <their passion had lain dormant>. quiescent suggests a usually temporary cessation of activity <the disease was quiescent>. potential applies to what does not yet have existence or effect but is likely soon to have <a potential disaster>.

Rhymes with latent



noun la·tent \ˈlā-tənt\

Definition of latent

  1. :  a fingerprint (as at the scene of a crime) that is scarcely visible but can be developed for study —called also latent fingerprint, latent print

Origin of latent

(see 1latent)

First Known Use: 1923

LATENT Defined for Kids


adjective la·tent \ˈlā-tənt\

Definition of latent for Students

  1. :  present but not visible or active <a latent infection>

Medical Dictionary


adjective la·tent \ˈlāt-ənt\

Medical Definition of latent

  1. :  existing in hidden or dormant form: asa:  present or capable of living or developing in a host without producing visible symptoms of disease <a latent virus> <a latent infection>b:  not consciously expressed <latent anxiety>c:  relating to or being the latent content of a dream or thought

latently adverb

Law Dictionary


adjective la·tent \ˈlāt-ənt\

Legal Definition of latent

  1. :  existing in hidden or dormant form but usually capable of being brought to light — compare patent

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up latent? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


tending to dismiss important matters

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