plen·​i·​po·​ten·​tia·​ry | \ ˌple-nə-pə-ˈten(t)-sh(ə-)rē How to pronounce plenipotentiary (audio) , -shē-ˌer-ē \

Definition of plenipotentiary

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : invested with full power
2 : of or relating to a plenipotentiary


plural plenipotentiaries

Definition of plenipotentiary (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person and especially a diplomatic agent invested with full power to transact business

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The adjective plenipotentiary is typically used, as in our second example, after the noun it modifies in the ranking of diplomatic hierarchy. Plenipotentiary gets its power from its Latin roots: plenus, meaning "full," and potens, "powerful." When government leaders dispatch their ambassador plenipotentiary, minister plenipotentiary, or envoy plenipotentiary, they are not just sending an agent to deal with foreign affairs but one having full power to act on the behalf of his or her country and government. The word extraordinary is also found in titles of government representatives-sometimes in combination with plenipotentiary (as in "Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary")-to denote an agent assigned to a particular (or extraordinary) diplomatic mission. Both the adjective and the noun plenipotentiary (meaning "a person invested with full power to transact business") appeared in the mid-17th century.

Examples of plenipotentiary in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective After Teruzzi was made plenipotentiary to the Italian colony in Cyrenaica, the two splashed out on sumptuous receptions and a splendid rococo residence. Caroline Moorehead, WSJ, 2 Oct. 2020 His previous postings have included stints as attaché in Saudi Arabia, ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary in Malawi and Liberia, and then as director-general of the department of African Affairs at the foreign ministry. Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu, Quartz Africa, 21 Mar. 2020 After nearly a decade as Russia's ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, arguably his country's most critical foreign emissary, the sixty-six-year-old is now a pariah in Washington. Garrett M. Graff, Esquire, 11 May 2017 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Then came Bob, the king of Thailand’s valet plenipotentiary. Alejandro Varela, Harper's magazine, 16 Sep. 2019 Morris was eventually the United States’ plenipotentiary to France and spent years afterward touring Europe and having affairs there. Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review, 4 June 2019

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

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First Known Use of plenipotentiary


1646, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1648, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for plenipotentiary


Medieval Latin plenipotentiarius, adjective & noun, from Late Latin plenipotent-, plenipotens

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The first known use of plenipotentiary was in 1646

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Cite this Entry

“Plenipotentiary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of plenipotentiary

: a person (such as a diplomat) who has complete power to do business for a government

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