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From Middle English potentat, from Old French, from Late Latin potentātus (rule, political power), from Latin potēns (powerful, strong), the active present participle of possum (I am able).


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈpəʊ.tən.teɪt/
    • (file)
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈpoʊ.tən.teɪt/


potentate (plural potentates)

  1. A powerful leader; a monarch; a ruler.
  2. A powerful polity or institution.
  3. (derogatory) A self-important person.
  4. (humorous) Someone acting in an important role.

Usage notes[edit]

This term usually carries connotations or implications of ancient despotism before advanced Western conceptions of civil law and Enlightenment values; in other words, a potentate can be described as a king or realm that exercises "raw", absolute power by decree and entrenched in "exotic" customs and traditions (cf. Orientalism). For example, a "Hindu potentate" would refer to those petty kings who controlled various small dominions in India before the British Raj. Particularly in the second sense, use of "potentate" to refer to Western states even before the modern era is rare, and may even be intended humorously in such a case.

Related terms[edit]



potentate (comparative more potentate, superlative most potentate)

  1. (obsolete) Regnant, powerful, dominant.