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plen·​i·​po·​ten·​tia·​ry ˌple-nə-pə-ˈten(t)-sh(ə-)rē How to pronounce plenipotentiary (audio)
: invested with full power
: of or relating to a plenipotentiary


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plural plenipotentiaries
: 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
Belichick’s plenipotentiary football power, which has produced six Super Bowl titles, is rented. Christopher L. Gasper,, 8 Sep. 2022 The Scripps National Spelling Bee has come to a close, and this year has once again reminded us how brilliant these kids are, able to spell words like sesquipedalian and plenipotentiary with zero hesitation. Haadiza Ogwude, The Enquirer, 3 June 2022 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
Walpole’s most frequent correspondent was Horace Mann, the British plenipotentiary in Florence, Italy. Catherine Ostler, WSJ, 15 Apr. 2022 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 See More

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

Word History



borrowed from Medieval Latin plēnipotentiārius, from plēnipotentia "full power or authority" (noun derivative of Late Latin plēnipotent-, plēnipotens "invested with full power, plenipotent") + Latin -ārius -ary entry 2


borrowed from Medieval Latin plēnipotentiārius, noun derivative of plēnipotentiārius plenipotentiary entry 1

First Known Use


1646, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1648, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of plenipotentiary was in 1646


Dictionary Entries Near plenipotentiary

Cite this Entry

“Plenipotentiary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


plural plenipotentiaries
: a person and especially a diplomatic agent having full power to carry on business
plenipotentiary adjective

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