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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for potential

Synonyms: Adjective

implicit, possible

Synonyms: Noun

capability, eventuality, possibility, potentiality, prospect

Antonyms: Adjective

actual, existent, factual, real

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

There are signs that markets and voters alike are growing warier of the potential for damage — raising the stakes for both parties. NBC News, "Trump's China quagmire both an opportunity and cautionary tale for Dems," 13 Sep. 2019 In other words, Waller has plenty of breakout potential this year and gets a prime matchup in Week 2. Kevin Hanson, SI.com, "Fantasy Football: Week 2 TE Rankings," 12 Sep. 2019 The project could take decades to fully commercialize but has the potential to revolutionize electricity. Andrew Blum, Time, "The Tech Innovations We Need to Happen if We're Going to Survive Climate Change," 12 Sep. 2019 So how farms are going to be affected, the potential for crop failure and a warming climate. Wired, "How to Practice Long-Term Thinking in a Distracted World," 12 Sep. 2019 If Lukes can go on a tear again this season, Charlestown has the potential to run the table. David J. Kim, The Courier-Journal, "Jeffersonville football faces tough road test, plus 5 biggest Southern Indiana storylines," 11 Sep. 2019 State lawmakers are studying the potential for economic benefits with expanded gambling. USA TODAY, "Animation behind bars, Elliott the elk, SkyStar: News from around our 50 states," 10 Sep. 2019 Portland came in 7th on the list of cities with the most potential to replace short car-centric trips. oregonlive, "E-scooters, e-bikes have ‘universal potential’ to reduce car trips, especially in Portland," 10 Sep. 2019 As with so many technological advances, this new frontier has the potential to both help and scupper humanity. Dominic Rech, CNN, "Brain implants could give governments and companies power to read your mind, scientists warn," 10 Sep. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

That potential has the entire Cognac region collaborating in search of ways to mitigate the risks, some of which may require it to change or abandon viticultural traditions reaching back centuries. Fortune, "How the $3.6 Billion Cognac Industry Is Trying to Outrun Climate Change," 14 Sep. 2019 While Dobbins blamed himself for not playing well enough, the whole offense had to work out kinks, including Fields’ recognition of fronts and which options provided the maximum potential. Nathan Baird, cleveland.com, "Can Ohio State football recreate the connection that made J.K. Dobbins a freshman sensation? Friday Focus," 13 Sep. 2019 For now, though, HUFT seems to be firmly placing its bets on the growth potential. Manavi Kapur, Quartz India, "Heads Up For Tales is raising millions as Indian pet parents pamper their pooches," 13 Sep. 2019 Topics include proposals for a penny sales tax in Orange County to pay for transit infrastructure and Central Florida’s potential to become a Silicon Valley for self-driving vehicle technology. Hal Boedeker, orlandosentinel.com, "Bahamas visit on ‘Orlando Matters’; Stephanie Murphy talks Russian interference on WFTV," 12 Sep. 2019 Though this never came to pass, the prospect demonstrates the criminal-justice system’s potential detrimental effects on entire families’ economic stability. Akintunde Ahmad, The Atlantic, "The Bleak Truth Behind My ‘Inspiring’ Path From Oakland to Yale," 12 Sep. 2019 With that seemingly limitless potential will come an array of problems to be solved and challenges to be met, including space debris, the variability of space weather, civil space traffic management and technology transfer, to name just a few. Charlie Brennan, The Denver Post, "Boulder workshop focuses on future of space commerce," 12 Sep. 2019 Ben-Eliyahu has focused on the drugs' potential to prevent metastasis after surgery, when residual disease often lingers around the surgical site or in distant parts of the body. Kelly Servick, Science | AAAS, "How the body’s nerves become accomplices in the spread of cancer," 12 Sep. 2019 Often enough to provide a big potential upside to buying a gun? Robert Verbruggen, National Review, "Do Guns Help People Defend Themselves?," 12 Sep. 2019

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

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about potential

Statistics for potential

Last Updated

17 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for potential

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on potential

What made you want to look up potential? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

miscellaneous remnants or debris

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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