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la·​tent ˈlā-tᵊnt How to pronounce latent (audio)
: present and capable of emerging or developing but not now visible, obvious, active, or symptomatic
a latent infection
latently adverb


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: 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

Choose the Right Synonym for 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 (such 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

Examples of latent in a Sentence

Adjective 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
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
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
he has a latent talent for acting that he hasn't had a chance to express yet
Recent Examples on the Web
The latent prints were entered into a national database and matched a record for a man identified as Frank Gallas Mendoza, who previously was unknown to investigators, according to the news release. Aidan Wohl, The Arizona Republic, 2 Sep. 2023 Peso Pluma clearly knows how to hear the latent right-now in the music of yesterday. Chris Richards, Washington Post, 27 Aug. 2023 The baseball players segregated themselves from the rest of Yale and cultivated a hostility toward their peers, their latent status anxiety sharpened by a realization that some of their fellow students did not take them or their sport seriously. Nicholas Confessore, New York Times, 22 Aug. 2023 Their bet is that latent frustration with liberals’ pursuit of social justice and equity will drive Americans to the polls in 2024, even as the U.S. faces growing foreign policy threats, intensifying climate change, and fresh economic uncertainty. Clifford A. Young, Fortune, 24 Aug. 2023 Nothing becomes a phenomenon without tapping into a latent desire in the zeitgeist. Jeff Weiss, Spin, 21 Aug. 2023 The piece begins as a slow dirge, then accelerates into a kind of battle charge — the episode climaxes in a call to war for the latent rebels in Ferrix. Tim Greiving, Los Angeles Times, 16 Aug. 2023 Other, more insidious, online reactions have also made the situation even worse, with some using the lawsuit as permission to double down on their own barely latent prejudices about fat Black women. Banseka Kayembe,, 7 Aug. 2023 Other, more insidious, online reactions have also made the situation even worse, with some appearing to use the lawsuit as permission to double down on their own barely latent prejudices about fat women. Banseka Kayembe,, 9 Aug. 2023
Instead, that intensity is replaced by the latent, looming chaos of trying to build and open a brand-new restaurant on a shoestring budget. Sam Stone, Bon Appétit, 22 June 2023 The desire existed right below the threshold of consciousness, yet this latent need seemingly guided my actions for the past four years. Zachary Zane, Rolling Stone, 9 May 2023 The mothership — the Krystal ship — was a wicked-humored drama about a chemistry teacher/latent megalomaniac who cooks up a meth empire with one of his burnout students after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis. Dan Snierson,, 17 Aug. 2022 But some people live with latent tuberculosis infections, meaning the bacteria is inactive and the host isn’t contagious and doesn’t have symptoms. Aria Bendix, NBC News, 4 Feb. 2023 Still, even when present in very small quantities, the paper appears to show that approximate memorization in latent diffusion models does exist, and that could have implications for data privacy and copyright. Benj Edwards, Ars Technica, 1 Feb. 2023 Standard treatment is a mixture of antibiotics administered over a few months for latent cases and longer, up to 12 months, for active cases. Yereth Rosen, Anchorage Daily News, 31 Jan. 2023 Velma began three or four years ago when Kaling was invited to peruse the Warner Bros. catalog and unearthed a latent affinity with Velma. WIRED, 28 Jan. 2023 The foreboding anticipates a double murder on the river’s banks and conveys a broader sense sluicing the series of the menace of nature itself – both the chilling woods around Blackwater, a village in mid-Sweden, and latent human brutality. John Hopewell, Variety, 27 Jan. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'latent.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Adjective and Noun

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, in the meaning defined above


1920, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of latent was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near latent

Cite this Entry

“Latent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


: present but not visible or active
the car's latent defects
a latent infection
latently adverb

Medical Definition


la·​tent ˈlāt-ᵊnt How to pronounce latent (audio)
: existing in hidden or dormant form: as
: present or capable of living or developing in a host without producing visible symptoms of disease
a latent virus
a latent infection
: not consciously expressed
latent anxiety
: relating to or being the latent content of a dream or thought
latently adverb

Legal Definition


la·​tent ˈlāt-ᵊnt How to pronounce latent (audio)
: existing in hidden or dormant form but usually capable of being brought to light compare patent

More from Merriam-Webster on latent

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