I've konwn that 'potential' is uncountable noun so far. But i saw one vedio named Vox channel which said

"In any human endeavor, There is a potential for error"

In that sentence, potential is used as countable noun, right?

I don't know which is correct. I want you, experts to help me know it correctly. Thanks.!

Plus, i don't think they had a mistake. Because they said "a potential" in the vedio and they made a subtitle on screen at the same time....

  • It isn't clear whether the phrasing "the potential for error" is countable. The uncountable sense might be better represented here as "some potential for error". Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 17:44
  • 1
    A lot of subtitles on Youtube are automatic. Might they have said "there is, uh, potential for error"?
    – SamBC
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 17:49

3 Answers 3


Merriam-Webster allows 'potential' to be a countable noun:

potential noun

1a : something that can develop or become actual

a potential for violence


We can talk about the embodiment of an ordinarily non-count attribute in a person or thing - she had a singular grace and a wonderful lightness when playing the piano; he had a weight and a stature as a politician that were useful to his party.


Potential can be a countable noun - in physics (and electrical work, for the same reason). In the sense of "potential for error", it is generally uncountable, you are correct. It would be most standard to say "the potential for error" or just "potential for error".

However, you will get indefinite articles before potential when it is an adjective - one might talk about something as "a potential error".

It is possible that the speaker slipped. This sort of slip is common enough that it might even be considered a variant in itself.


"A potential for error" is an odd expression, as it suggests there is more than one kind of potential for error. This makes little sense in this context, which is making a general philosophical statement. Perhaps the video goes into more detail about the various kinds of potential for error, but why? I would instead have said:

In any human endeavor there is the potential for various kinds of error

retaining "potential" as an uncountable noun.

Again, it's strange. I'm not going to say that the speaker in the video made a mistake, or is not a native English speaker, but it's possible they are unfamiliar with the typical way this idea is expressed.

In any case, to answer your question: Yes, in this particular use "potential" (meaning "capacity") is a countable noun, but in the same way you can turn any uncountable noun into a countable noun, if you want.

"I like to enjoy a music in the evenings," he said. "Sometimes more than one music, if I'm feeling indulgent."

With creative writing, anything is possible. You just have to be aware the reader might misunderstand what you write, or dismiss it as nonsense.

  • 3
    There's a potential for error when x do y. I see nothing odd about it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 18:49

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