late 14c., "possible" (as opposed to actual), "capable of being or becoming," from Old French potenciel and directly from Medieval Latin potentialis "potential," from Latin potentia "power, might, force;" figuratively "political power, authority, influence," from potens "powerful," from potis "powerful, able, capable; possible;" of persons, "better, preferable; chief, principal; strongest, foremost," from PIE root *poti- "powerful; lord."
The noun, meaning "that which is possible, anything that may be" is attested by 1817 (Coleridge), from the adjective. Middle English had potencies (plural) "a caustic medicine" (early 15c.).
updated on September 23, 2020
Dictionary entries near potential