1. Capable of being but not yet in existence; latent or undeveloped: a potential problem; a substance with many potential uses.
2. Grammar Of, relating to, or being a verbal construction with auxiliaries such as may or can; for example, it may snow.
1. The inherent ability or capacity for growth, development, or future success: an investment with a lot of potential; a singer who has the potential to become a major star.
2. The possibility that something might happen or result from given conditions: a tense situation with the potential to turn into a riot; farming practices that increase the potential for the erosion of topsoil.
4. Grammar A potential verb form.
[Middle English potencial, from Old French potenciel, from Late Latin potentiālis, powerful, from Latin potentia, power, from potēns, potent-, present participle of posse, to be able; see POTENT.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.