[puh-ten-shuh l]
See more synonyms for potential on Thesaurus.com
  1. possible, as opposed to actual: the potential uses of nuclear energy.
  2. capable of being or becoming: a potential danger to safety.
  3. Grammar. expressing possibility: the potential subjunctive in Latin; the potential use of can in I can go.
  4. Archaic. potent1.
  1. possibility; potentiality: an investment that has little growth potential.
  2. a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed.
  3. Grammar.
    1. a potential aspect, mood, construction, case, etc.
    2. a form in the potential.
  4. Electricity. electric potential(def 1).
  5. Mathematics, Physics. a type of function from which the intensity of a field may be derived, usually by differentiation.
  6. 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 formsnon·po·ten·tial, adjective, noun

Synonyms for potential

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2. See latent. 5. capacity, potency.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for potential

Contemporary Examples of potential

Historical Examples of potential

  • She loomed large, potential, courageous, a woman who held life in her hands.


    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.

  • Aren't you perhaps exaggerating your potential influence on my life?

  • It is potential, not actual, and can only be appropriated by strenuous exertion.



British Dictionary definitions for potential


    1. possible but not yet actual
    2. (prenominal)capable of being or becoming but not yet in existence; latent
  1. grammar (of a verb or form of a verb) expressing possibility, as English may and might
  2. an archaic word for potent 1
  1. latent but unrealized ability or capacityJones has great potential as a sales manager
  2. grammar a potential verb or verb form
  3. short for electric potential
Derived Formspotentially, adverb

Word Origin for potential

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

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

potential in Medicine


  1. Capable of being but not yet in existence; latent.
  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.