po·​ten·​tial | \ pə-ˈten(t)-shəl How to pronounce potential (audio) \

Essential Meaning of potential

: capable of becoming real : possible Doctors are excited about the new drug's potential benefits. Critics say the factory poses a potential threat to the environment. See More Examplesthe school's potential growth He is a potential candidate for president. The project has potential risks/advantages.Hide

Full Definition of potential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : existing in possibility : capable of development into actuality potential benefits
2 : expressing possibility specifically : of, relating to, or constituting a verb phrase expressing possibility, liberty, or power by the use of an auxiliary with the infinitive of the verb (as in "it may rain")



Definition of potential (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : something that can develop or become actual a potential for violence
2a : any of various functions from which the intensity or the velocity at any point in a field may be readily calculated
b : the work required to move a unit positive charge from a reference point (as at infinity) to a point in question

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for potential

Synonyms: Adjective

Synonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Adjective

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for potential


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

Did you know?

Potential can be either good or bad. Studying hard increases the potential for success, but wet roads increase the potential for accidents. But when a person or thing "has potential", we always expect something good from it in the future. As an adjective (as in "potential losses", "potential benefits", etc.), potential usually means simply "possible". In science, however, the adjective has a special meaning: Potential energy is the kind of stored energy that a boulder sitting at the top of a cliff has (the opposite of kinetic energy, which is what it has as it rolls down that cliff).

Examples of potential in a Sentence

Adjective Doctors are excited about the new drug's potential benefits. Critics say the factory poses a potential threat to the environment. He is a potential candidate for president. The project has potential risks. Noun Scientists are exploring the potentials of the new drug. The new technology has the potential to transform the industry. There is potential in the new technology, but it will be a long time before it can actually be used. The company has a lot of potential for future growth. He has the potential to be one of the team's best players. He shows enormous potential as an athlete.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective For example, your sales team can’t effectively close potential deals if the marketing and advertising team aren’t driving the most qualified prospects their way. Steve Smith, Forbes, 14 Oct. 2021 Haaland and Amanda Lefton, director of department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said officials hope to reduce potential conflicts with fishing groups and other ocean users as much as possible. BostonGlobe.com, 14 Oct. 2021 But hypertension isn't the only potential cause of nocturia. Maggie O'neill, Health.com, 12 Oct. 2021 Kentucky is one of several states where attorneys general are elected -- giving rise to potential conflicts if the governor of a state is of a different party. Ariane De Vogue, CNN, 12 Oct. 2021 Reports even mentioned Hyundai and Kia as potential partners, but the rumors reportedly killed the deal. Chris Smith, BGR, 7 Oct. 2021 But improper trash storage — possibly exacerbated by delayed collections — has at least been addressed to correct one potential cause. Jim Riccioli, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6 Oct. 2021 During a call announcing the Meredith acquisition Wednesday evening, IAC CEO Joey Levin said the deal, while large, still leaves IAC with plenty of cash for other potential deals. Maria Armental, WSJ, 6 Oct. 2021 Trump opted to hang onto his company and real estate assets, then valued at $3.5 billion, despite potential conflicts of interest his financial entanglements would create. Washington Post, 5 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun While activity across much of the West has moderated over the past few weeks, the latest forecast from the National Interagency Wildfire Center suggests that fire potential in California will linger through November. Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle, 8 Oct. 2021 Although not in the dry cleaning business himself, Edelman saw the potential in his father’s company. Courtney Lichterman, Robb Report, 7 Oct. 2021 Hazel sees potential in Durdahl and the team to grow. oregonlive, 6 Oct. 2021 Polo sees the potential in his music to inspire people who have lived through similar circumstances. Jeff Ihaza, Rolling Stone, 6 Oct. 2021 In the role, Belliotti will lead MassiveMusic’s New York and Los Angeles offices while maximizing the company’s potential in North America. Chris Eggertsen, Billboard, 1 Oct. 2021 Now, other businesses in the space are beginning to see the potential, too. Raisa Bruner, Time, 30 Sep. 2021 The key reason to teach unicorn-entrepreneurship is this: no one can look at someone else’s eyes and see potential. Dileep Rao, Forbes, 29 Sep. 2021 Lynett sees wave energy’s potential in its application in areas where solar and wind options are not viable, or where the ocean currents are particularly energetic. Phil Rosen, Fortune, 28 Sep. 2021

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

See More

First Known Use of potential


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1587, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for potential


Middle English potencial, from Late Latin potentialis, from potentia potentiality, from Latin, power, from potent-, potens

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About potential

Time Traveler for potential

Time Traveler

The first known use of potential was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near potential



potential barrier

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for potential

Last Updated

17 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Potential.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/potential. Accessed 22 Oct. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon
Seen & Heard
People are talking about

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for potential


po·​ten·​tial | \ pə-ˈten-shəl How to pronounce potential (audio) \

Kids Definition of potential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: existing as a possibility : capable of becoming real potential dangers

Other Words from potential

potentially adverb a potentially profitable business



Kids Definition of potential (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : the chance or possibility that something will develop and become real There is a potential for injury.
2 : an ability or quality that can lead to success or excellence : promise She has great potential as a musician.


po·​ten·​tial | \ pə-ˈten-chəl How to pronounce potential (audio) \

Medical Definition of potential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: existing in possibility : capable of development into actuality

Other Words from potential

potentially \ -​ˈtench-​(ə-​)lē How to pronounce potential (audio) \ adverb



Medical Definition of potential (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : something that can develop or become actual
2a : any of various functions from which the intensity or the velocity at any point in a field may be readily calculated specifically : electrical potential

More from Merriam-Webster on potential

Nglish: Translation of potential for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of potential for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Dog Words Quiz

  • shiba puppy more or less demanding cuddles
  • Which of the following animals has a dog in its etymology?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!