What is the correct plural of octopus?

Answered by Jeremy Urbaniak

The correct plural of octopus is a topic that has caused much debate and confusion among language enthusiasts. While many people assume that the plural form should be “octopi” due to its similarity to other words ending in “-us,” this is actually an incorrect assumption. The reason for this lies in the word’s origin and etymology.

The word “octopus” comes from the Greek language, where it is spelled as “októpus.” In Greek, the “-us” ending is not used to indicate plurality. Instead, the plural form is formed by changing the ending of the word to “-odes” or “-oi” in certain cases. Applying this rule to “octopus,” the plural form would logically be “octopodes.”

However, it is important to note that the word “octopi” has become widely accepted and is commonly used in English. This is due to a process called “hypercorrection,” where people assume that words ending in “-us” should follow the same pattern as other Latin-derived words. As a result, “octopi” has become a popular alternative plural form, despite its incorrectness from a linguistic standpoint.

Another reason for the prevalence of “octopi” is the influence of the English language itself. English has a tendency to borrow and adapt words from various languages, often disregarding their original grammar rules. In this case, “octopus” has been anglicized and treated as a regular English noun, leading to the creation of the plural “octopuses” as well.

So, while “octopodes” is the technically correct plural form based on the word’s Greek origin, both “octopi” and “octopuses” are widely accepted and commonly used in English. The choice of which form to use ultimately depends on personal preference or adherence to linguistic accuracy.

In my personal experience, I have encountered all three plural forms being used in different contexts. For example, in scientific or academic settings, “octopodes” may be preferred due to the emphasis on accuracy and adherence to etymology. However, in everyday conversation or informal writing, “octopuses” or “octopi” are more commonly used.

To summarize, the correct plural form of octopus, based on its Greek origin, is “octopodes.” However, both “octopi” and “octopuses” have become accepted variations in English usage.