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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
This time around there’s no prized scalp worthy of claiming, and latent anti-establishment sentiment is far more amorphous. Beth Greenfield, Fortune, 20 June 2024 In Defense of Kitsch The denigration of kitsch betrays a latent anti-Catholicism, one born from centuries of class and ethnic divisions. JSTOR Daily, 24 June 2024
The encoder compresses input data into a lower-dimensional space, known as the latent (or embedding) space, that preserves the most essential aspects of the data. IEEE Spectrum, 14 Feb. 2024 Keeler: One of the secret ingredients of the Nuggets’ latent dynasty is chemistry, both on and off the court. Sean Keeler, The Denver Post, 5 Feb. 2024 See all Example Sentences for latent 

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 22 Jul. 2024.

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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