po·​ten·​tate ˈpō-tᵊn-ˌtāt How to pronounce potentate (audio)
: ruler, sovereign
broadly : one who wields great power or sway

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Potentate has been wielding its power in English since the 15th century. It comes from the Late Latin potentatus, which in turn was formed from the Latin potent-, meaning "powerful." Other descendants of potent- in English include potent itself, impotent, and omnipotent, as well as the archaic armipotent and very rare bellipotent (meaning, respectively, "mighty in battle" and "mighty in war"). Even power and powerful can be traced back to potent-.

Examples of potentate in a Sentence

Charles inherited the position of potentate of the Holy Roman Empire from his grandfather, as well that of king of Spain from his father.
Recent Examples on the Web The result was that Hollywood sold its gems as costume jewelry, not through mercenary cynicism but because the studio potentates were no more aware of the enduring art being produced under their aegis than were critics or, for that matter, viewers. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 30 Oct. 2023 The petty squabbles and rivalries of the country’s minor potentates have led to human rights abuses. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 15 Sep. 2023 The businessman’s circle of acquaintances and contacts was eclectic and expansive: glitterati of all stripes, pro-business politicos including then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, potentates such as the sultan of Brunei, and the arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi. Brian Murphy, Washington Post, 1 Sep. 2023 That may be cold comfort to many Pakistanis, who live in what by some measures is South Asia’s most unequal society, one long dominated by influential, quasi-feudal potentates. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 21 June 2023 Precisely because the space is both her work studio and a small business (as a landlady), her life impinges uneasily on her art in the form of trivial necessities, ones that don’t have the near-tragic profile of public power that marks the demands of film-industry potentates on their artists. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 23 Mar. 2023 Bowing down is a symbol of obeisance, and Americans do not bend our knees for our own leaders, much less for foreign potentates. Judith Martin, oregonlive, 18 Apr. 2023 Meanwhile, the Shriners learned Friday that the cost of the damage, which includes reattaching the man’s head and repairing the girl’s head and arm, as well as replacing bolts in the pedestal will be around $2,000, said John Taylor, a past potentate. Steven Goode, courant.com, 30 Oct. 2020 Especially when said potentate is already 80 and shows no signs of slowing down. Dallas News, 26 Jan. 2023 See More

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

Word History

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

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


Dictionary Entries Near potentate

Cite this Entry

“Potentate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/potentate. Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


po·​ten·​tate ˈpōt-ᵊn-ˌtāt How to pronounce potentate (audio)
: a person who has controlling power : sovereign
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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