la·​tent | \ ˈlā-tᵊnt How to pronounce latent (audio) \

Definition of latent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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


la·​tent | \ ˈlā-tᵊnt How to pronounce latent (audio) \

Definition of latent (Entry 2 of 2)

: 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

Other Words from latent


latently adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for latent

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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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: Adjective The pandemic contained but did not eliminate the risk of a latent social explosion. Fox News, 28 June 2022 Nordica set the benchmark for accessible or latent power in 2019 with the Enforcer 104 Free. Heather Schultz, Outside Online, 4 Mar. 2021 Ballistic missiles have gone from being a latent Iranian capability to a threat against both U.S. troops and oil markets. NBC News, 29 Nov. 2021 This is probably latent freeze damage from last February. Neil Sperry, San Antonio Express-News, 1 Oct. 2021 Parents and grandparents constitute a massive if latent political force (over 63 million American parents have a minor living under their roof). Elliot Haspel, The New Republic, 26 Aug. 2021 The latent conflict between his show business lifestyle and his ingrained religious beliefs came to a head during a 1957 tour of Australia. Richard Cromelin, Los Angeles Times, 9 May 2020 The isolation imposed by the coronavirus has awakened a latent homesteading spirit within many of us. Emily Heil, Houston Chronicle, 23 Apr. 2020 When Emil shocks everyone by discovering his own latent powers, Brighton hates the idea of suddenly being unremarkable and left behind. Karen Valby, New York Times, 4 Feb. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The show might seriously consider a further restructure ahead of next year’s ceremony — if only to avoid the latent irony of their long-form honor carrying on as one of their most fleeting. Sydney Urbanek, Billboard, 2 Aug. 2022 In Lyme, Wentworth finally confronts Anne about their latent feelings for each other. Lauren Puckett-pope, ELLE, 16 July 2022 While grocers’ latent adoption of online may have helped create the gaps in the market and encouraged an extraordinary bloom of disruptive players, the lion’s share of value is still held by conventional food service companies. Barry Clogan, Forbes, 15 July 2022 Additionally, 80 latent fingerprints collected at the time of Houts' death were reexamined by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Identification Unit, which matched Woodward. Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY, 13 July 2022 Finding a cure for HIV is a major scientific challenge because even when reduced to low levels with medication, the virus can hide from the body’s immune system, going latent in certain cells. Betsy Mckay, WSJ, 27 July 2022 So will latent cases, where the bacteria remains dormant in the body. Emily Schwing, Anchorage Daily News, 8 May 2022 As a latent virus, once infected, CMV remains in the body for life, and can reactivate during periods of stress. Essence, 19 July 2022 Estrada deftly likens once-liquid pigment to surging waters, giving his seascapes a sense of latent power. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, 15 July 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'latent.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of latent


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1920, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for latent

Adjective and Noun

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

Learn More About latent

Time Traveler for latent

Time Traveler

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

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Dictionary Entries Near latent



latent bud

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Statistics for latent

Last Updated

11 Jul 2022

Cite this Entry

“Latent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for latent


la·​tent | \ ˈlā-tᵊnt How to pronounce latent (audio) \

Kids Definition of latent

: present but not visible or active a latent infection


la·​tent | \ ˈlāt-ᵊnt How to pronounce latent (audio) \

Medical Definition of latent

: existing in hidden or dormant form: as
a : 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

Other Words from latent

latently adverb


la·​tent | \ ˈlāt-ᵊnt How to pronounce latent (audio) \

Legal Definition of latent

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

More from Merriam-Webster on latent

Nglish: Translation of latent for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of latent for Arabic Speakers


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