potential

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

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")

potential

noun

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

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Other Words from potential

Adjective

potentially \ pə-​ˈten(t)-​sh(ə-​)lē How to pronounce potentially (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for potential

Synonyms: Adjective

implicit, possible

Synonyms: Noun

capability, eventuality, possibility, potentiality, prospect

Antonyms: Adjective

actual, existent, factual, real

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Choose the Right Synonym for potential

Adjective

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

This can be a better gauge of potential than recent performance, Mr. Mankins says. Sue Shellenbarger, WSJ, "Companies Hire on Potential—If Only They Knew What That Meant," 12 Mar. 2019 There are so many ways to go all out with a promposal, from dressing up as a hot dog to offering a full vacation to your potential prom date (hey, it’s happened!). Alanna Greco, Seventeen, "These Celebs Have the *Best* Promposal Ideas," 12 Mar. 2019 Lunar soil has a lot of potential—some think its possible to turn it into a 3D-printing material and organically build structures with it. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "The ESA Is Taking Steps to Mine Moon Dust," 23 Jan. 2019 Tristan seems unbothered by the whole situation, hanging out with friends and a potential new love interest at dinner in New York. Katherine J. Igoe, Marie Claire, "Tristan Thompson Drinks Wine With His Pals (and Maybe a New Woman)," 28 Feb. 2019 Meghan, conscious of a potential language barrier, even prepared questions in a French to ask the 12- to 18-year-old students who live at the boarding house. Omid Scobie, Harper's BAZAAR, "How Duchess Meghan Won Morocco’s Heart Just Weeks Before Her Due Date," 26 Feb. 2019 With five Golden Globes nominations and the potential for Oscar nods as well, Green Book is already being touted as an awards season darling. Caroline Hallemann, Town & Country, "Don Shirley's Family Questions Green Book's Accuracy," 5 Jan. 2019 Regular communications should cover everything from work progress to delays to potential problems to contractor or homeowner concerns. Brett Martin, House Beautiful, "How To Form A Great Relationship With Your Contractor," 26 Dec. 2018 The European Union warned Trump to assess the potential impact of abandoning a 40-year-old arms control agreement. Fox News, "Treaty exits and extensions top Trump adviser's Moscow talks," 23 Oct. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

That 2016 federal court case ended with DeVry agreeing to a $100 million settlement for tens of thousands of students damaged by misleading ads promising employment and high-earning potential. Chuck Thompson, Popular Mechanics, "The State of American Trade Schools," 13 Mar. 2019 Others actors on our potential wishlist include Omar Ayuso from Elite, Justin Dobes from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or even Michael Consuelos, who was among Riverdale's newest residents. Lauren Rearick, Teen Vogue, "Social Media Thinks Cole Sprouse, KJ Apa, or Shawn Mendes Should Be Cast in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”," 20 Dec. 2018 Despite its high-end design and powerful internals, the Watch GT isn't being used to its fullest potential thanks to the lean nature of LiteOS. Valentina Palladino, Ars Technica, "Huawei Watch GT review: When hardware and software don’t mesh," 16 Dec. 2018 Then there’s the more exciting news, which is a potential Dragon Age reveal set for December—perhaps at the Game Awards, though Casey Hudson’s blog post doesn’t say for sure. Hayden Dingman, PCWorld, "This week in games: Obsidian teases a game reveal, the FTC pledges to look into loot boxes," 30 Nov. 2018 But certain factors can help (or hinder) your Christmas cactus's potential. The Editors, Good Housekeeping, "How to Keep Your Christmas Cactus Blooming the Whole Holiday Season," 27 Nov. 2018 An early glimpse of Magic Leap’s potential came in a flashy video showing an office worker taking up virtual arms against an invasion of ne’er-do-wells. Jay Greene, WSJ, "Microsoft’s Hype Strategy for HoloLens Is to Avoid It," 24 Feb. 2019 China’s leaders see such strategies as a path to greater prosperity and global influence and have tried to defuse complaints by emphasizing the country’s potential as a huge consumer market. Joe Mcdonald, The Seattle Times, "US-China trade talks start amid cooling economic growth," 7 Jan. 2019 Repot to a larger container every spring to allow the plant to reach its full blooming and growth potential. Therese Ciesinski, Good Housekeeping, "How to Grow Lavender Anywhere — Even Indoors," 9 Aug. 2018

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.

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First Known Use of potential

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

1587, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for potential

Adjective

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

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Last Updated

19 Mar 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for potential

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

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More Definitions for potential

potential

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of potential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: capable of becoming real

potential

noun

English Language Learners Definition of potential (Entry 2 of 2)

: a chance or possibility that something will happen or exist in the future
: a quality that something has that can be developed to make it better
: an ability that someone has that can be developed to help that person become successful

potential

adjective
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

potential

noun

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.

potential

adjective
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 potentially (audio) \ adverb

potential

noun

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

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Comments on potential

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