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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.
    • 1592, Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part I, act iii, scene 2
      But Kings and mightieſt Potentates muſt die,
      For that's the end of humane miſerie.
    • 1900, Theodore Dreiser, "Sister Carrie"
      She was now one of a group of oriental beauties who, in the second act of the comic opera, were paraded by the vizier before the new potentate as the treasures of his harem.
  2. A powerful polity or institution.
  3. (derogatory) A self-important person.

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.