potential

1 of 2

adjective

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

potential

2 of 2

noun

1
a
: something that can develop or become actual
a potential for violence
2
a
: 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

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).

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

Example Sentences

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
More than half a dozen potential buyers had expressed interest, including Joe Lacob, owner of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors; Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of the Los Angeles Times; and investors from Japan. Los Angeles Times, 24 Jan. 2023 Jury selection continued Tuesday as the court finished whittling down the 900 people sent summons to a pool of more than 120 potential jurors. Jeffrey Collins, ajc, 24 Jan. 2023 And behind every successful sale is an agent with a powerful marketing plan that connects with potential buyers. Dallas News, 22 Jan. 2023 Gauvin sees the challenges of inflation, but also a potential benefit. Linda Greenstein, BostonGlobe.com, 20 Jan. 2023 But the potential benefit – a future with abundant and relatively clean energy – gives hope to many scientists and environmentalists alike. Sara Lang, The Christian Science Monitor, 17 Jan. 2023 For the moment, however, potential electric vehicle buyers in Wyoming can rest assured that their purchases will still be permitted. Bryan Pietsch, Washington Post, 17 Jan. 2023 The company’s sales plunged late last year as rising rates make car purchases unaffordable for many potential buyers. Kristin Broughton, WSJ, 16 Jan. 2023 Rebates for installing energy-saving appliances, double-pane windows and wall insulation lessen upfront costs and the owner benefits from lower monthly utility bills while making a home more appealing to potential buyers. oregonlive, 13 Jan. 2023
Noun
Murdoch in October proposed an exploration of the potential for a merger, which had to be completed by special committees of both corporations. Brian Steinberg, Variety, 24 Jan. 2023 But this kind of experiment is a good example of the potential of legged robots to do useful work in real-world environments. IEEE Spectrum, 24 Jan. 2023 Technology’s purpose is to accelerate the realization of that potential. Mike Gould, Forbes, 23 Jan. 2023 Since then, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, renewing fears of the potential for global nuclear war. Andrew Torgan, CNN, 22 Jan. 2023 Fisheries biologist Tim Bister of Marshall is another fan of Fork and Ivie, but says Caddo in northeast Texas is another lake with plenty of potential. Matt Williams, Dallas News, 22 Jan. 2023 These new laws go into effect in Texas on January 1 Both Porter and Smith have blended flashes of potential this season with stretches of poor play. Michael Shapiro, Chron, 20 Jan. 2023 One of the best sympathetic works ever written about the churning days from February to October 1917, October stripped away the baggage of judgment from events and characters, transforming the upheaval into a flash of miraculous potential. James Robins, The New Republic, 19 Jan. 2023 Alumni like Hunter Greene, who showed glimpses of potential with the Cincinnati Reds last season, and Termarr Johnson, the No. 4 pick in last year’s draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, are beacons for the younger players. David Waldstein, New York Times, 17 Jan. 2023 See More

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.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective

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

First Known Use

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

1587, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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

Dictionary Entries Near potential

Cite this Entry

“Potential.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/potential. Accessed 3 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition

potential

1 of 2 adjective
po·​ten·​tial pə-ˈten-chəl How to pronounce potential (audio)
: capable of becoming real : possible
aware of the potential dangers in a scheme
potentially adverb

potential

2 of 2 noun
1
a
: something that can develop or become actual : possibility
a potential for injury
b
: promise entry 1 sense 3
an invention with great potential
2
a
: the work required to move a single positive charge from a reference point (as at infinity) to a point in question

Medical Definition

potential

1 of 2 adjective
po·​ten·​tial pə-ˈten-chəl How to pronounce potential (audio)
: existing in possibility : capable of development into actuality
potentially adverb

potential

2 of 2 noun
1
: something that can develop or become actual
2
a
: 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

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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