I have a question about “to his full potential”:

He told Golf World magazine that he hadn’t yet played to his full potential, “and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.”
Source: NYT – Sports of the Times – Nice Hole in One, but Nobody Is Close to Par With Woods

I’ve looked in dictionaries and cannot find the phrase “to one's full potential”. Could this be an error, or could it just happen not to be in dictionaries?

  • 2
    I don't think this is a set phrase. Dictionary definitions of full and potential should be sufficient.
    – user3169
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 19:09

1 Answer 1


According to Macmillan:

realize/reach your (full) potential

achieve the most that you are capable of

As a composer, she still hasn't realized her potential.
Source: macmillandictionary.com – potential – definition

In the context of that NYT article, Poulter is saying that once he finishes improving his golf play (once he’s as good as he believes he is capable of getting) he’ll be on par with Tiger Woods (above everyone else).

As far as searching for definitions goes, make sure you’re not too specific with your query and try looking for different pairs of words within a confusing passage. I found the definition above by searching: define "full potential".

  • So, "to one's full potential" is a nonstandard variation of "reach/realize one's full potential"?
    – meatie
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 20:36
  • I guess that’s a decent way of looking at it, and that claim would seem to be bolstered by finding one in a dictionary and not the other. I think that most phrases as long and loosely fixed as this one will experience a lot of variation. “<Verb> (up) to one’s full potential” is probably about as common as “reach/realize one’s full potential”. Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 21:12

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