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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Terms of a potential deal have not been finalized and talks could still collapse, according to the source. Matt Egan, CNN, 15 July 2024 The big picture: The FBI is investigating Saturday's shooting in Butler, Pennsylvania, that killed at least one person and critically wounded two others as a potential act of domestic terrorism. Avery Lotz, Axios, 15 July 2024
Noun
Both agencies advised law enforcement about the potential for retaliatory acts of violence following Saturday's shooting given the online threats of violence after the attempt on Trump's life. Nicole Sganga, CBS News, 16 July 2024 Still, many traders will instinctively believe that the attempt on Trump’s life has the potential to improve his chances of winning in November, at least in part because that’s what happened to Reagan in 1981, Macquarie analysts said in a research note Monday. Allison Morrow, CNN, 16 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for potential 

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

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 23 Jul. 2024.

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

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