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[puh-ten-shuh l] /pəˈtɛn ʃəl/
possible, as opposed to actual:
the potential uses of nuclear energy.
capable of being or becoming:
a potential danger to safety.
Grammar. expressing possibility:
the potential subjunctive in Latin; the potential use of can in I can go.
Archaic. potent1 .
possibility; potentiality:
an investment that has little growth potential.
a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed.
  1. a potential aspect, mood, construction, case, etc.
  2. a form in the potential.
Electricity. electric potential (def 1).
Mathematics, Physics. a type of function from which the intensity of a field may be derived, usually by differentiation.
someone or something that is considered a worthwhile possibility:
The list of job applications has been narrowed to half a dozen potentials.
Origin of potential
1350-1400; Middle English potencial (< Old French) < Late Latin potentiālis. See potency, -al1
Related forms
nonpotential, adjective, noun
2. See latent. 5. capacity, potency. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for potential
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • She loomed large, potential, courageous, a woman who held life in her hands.

    K Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • It recalls the days when Englishmen were potential lighters; that is, potential rebels.

    Alarms and Discursions G. K. Chesterton
  • If she be not a mother, you will supplicate her to speak of her potential children.

    City of Endless Night Milo Hastings
  • Aren't you perhaps exaggerating your potential influence on my life?

    The Education of Eric Lane Stephen McKenna
  • It is potential, not actual, and can only be appropriated by strenuous exertion.

    Meno Plato
British Dictionary definitions for potential


  1. possible but not yet actual
  2. (prenominal) capable of being or becoming but not yet in existence; latent
(grammar) (of a verb or form of a verb) expressing possibility, as English may and might
an archaic word for potent1
latent but unrealized ability or capacity: Jones has great potential as a sales manager
(grammar) a potential verb or verb form
short for electric potential
Derived Forms
potentially, adverb
Word Origin
C14: from Old French potencial, from Late Latin potentiālis, from Latin potentia power
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for potential

late 14c., "possible" (as opposed to actual), from Old French potenciel and directly from Late Latin potentialis "potential," from Latin potentia "power, might, force;" figuratively "political power, authority, influence," from potens "powerful" (see potent). The noun, meaning "that which is possible," is first attested 1817, from the adjective.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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potential in Medicine

potential po·ten·tial (pə-těn'shəl)
Capable of being but not yet in existence; latent. n.

  1. The inherent ability or capacity for growth, development, or coming into being.

  2. The work required to bring a unit electric charge, magnetic pole, or mass from an infinitely distant position to a designated point in a static electric, magnetic, or gravitational field, respectively.

  3. The potential energy of a unit charge at any point in an electric circuit measured with respect to a specified reference point in the circuit or to ground; voltage.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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