Is "potential candidates" a tautology?

I am not sure whether the potential of succeeding candidacy is implied in the definition of candidacy.


If there are many potential candidates who applied for the job, the interviewing process may take weeks.


The definition of "tautology" is loosely "the saying of the same thing twice over in different words". However, candidate seems to only loosely imply the potential of their candidacy. I wonder whether it is possible can have a potential-less candidate.

In my example, the candidate is definitely already a candidate. The potential applies to their chance of getting the job, which is the subject of their candidacy. So, is the use of "potential" redundant and tautological?

  • 2
    If the person described as a "potential candidate" is actually already a candidate, the speaker is using "potential" in a non-standard way. That makes it pretty hard to tell whether the word is redundant, or if it was meant to have some meaning that it doesn't typically have (e.g. having a high potential for success)
    – Juhasz
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 19:01

1 Answer 1


A candidate is actively seeking a position. A potential candidate would be someone unsure of whether or not to actively seek a position. They are not the same.

In your example, however, context would be needed to determine if it is redundant.

For instance, if a committee has to review applicants for eligibility (such as verifying credentials) for a position before advancing the candidate to an interview (otherwise they are rejected), then sentence makes sense to refer to them as "potential candidates" because their candidacy is in question.

  • Added some more context to my question for clarity :) Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 18:57
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    If they applied for the job, then they are a candidate and describing them as a "potential candidate" is incorrect (at least, incorrect with the limited context provided). If they are not sure whether or not to submit an application, then they are a "potential candidate" up until they decide to submit.
    – JRodge01
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 19:24
  • 1
    From the firm's POV an applicant might only be considered a candidate if it is verified they have the qualifications to do the job. You might look through a list of applicants and ask "Who here is a candidate?" It is ambiguous though.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 11:28

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