The plural form of cactus can be either cacti or cactuses, and the choice between the two is largely a matter of personal preference. Regardless of which form you choose, it’s important to remain consistent in your usage.
The meaning of cacti (or cactuses) is used to indicate that there is more than one cactus present. Cacti follows the rules of Latin pluralization, while cactuses follows English grammatical rules. The prevalence of one form over the other can vary depending on the context; cacti may be more commonly used in scientific settings, while cactuses is also accepted in everyday language.
This brief article explores the nomenclature of these two plural forms and provides plenty of examples to help you decide which version aligns with your preference. Keep reading to determine which form is your favorite!
What Is the Plural Form of Cactus? Is It Cactuses or Cacti?
Both cacti and cactuses are acceptable plural forms of the word cactus, and the choice between the two largely depends on personal preference. Cacti is the Latin plural of cactus, and it is often the more popular usage among English speakers. On the other hand, cactuses is the plural form that follows standard English grammatical rules. Dictionaries recognize both versions as correct, leaving it up to the individual to decide which form they prefer to use.
The word cactus is a special case in that confusion often reigns over which is correct: cactuses vs. cacti. And the short answer is, both are correct. In fact, like many other names of plants, you can even use cactus as plural if you so choose.
Latin plurals are not uncommon in scientific fields such as botany. These forms sometimes make their way into broader usage. However, there’s no strict requirement for the ordinary English speaker to abide by the rules of Latin grammar. Whether you prefer cacti or cactuses—or even cactus as a plural in certain settings—the choice is ultimately yours to make.
Latin has a large influence on the English language, contributing abstract nouns, adjectives, and a plethora of synonyms. But, these influences can also be confusing when Latin grammar rules pertaining to common vocabulary seem to be ignored and take on a life of their own, such as when -es is used instead of -i to create a plural. This is normal as words, or forms of words, develop over time and take on new definitions, nuances, or simply are popularly used regardless of what grammar says is right.
Confused yet? Cactus is not the only Latin-derived English word ending in –us, and most are conventionally pluralized in the English manner with an -es instead of the -i the Latin rule says is correct. It’s popular, acceptable, and simply sounds better in most cases.
Take fungus for example: while the plural fungi is commonly used, funguses is also perfectly acceptable. However, this pattern isn’t universal. Most English speakers don’t say campi instead of campuses, octopi instead of octopuses, stati instead of statuses, or viri instead of viruses.
In the case of cactus, it’s really a matter of preference. While cacti has been more popular since the plant was first classified, cactuses is just as grammatically correct. Ultimately, the choice between the two comes down to what sounds better to you or fits your context better.
Though cacti has the edge, both forms are common in current news publications and blogs from throughout the English-speaking world—for example:
For days, he trekked through desert plains dotted with cacti as vultures circled above his head. [Newsday]
Text-book cactuses flank the picturesque 449-yard, par-four 14th. [BBC]
Ringed by cacti and red rock buttes and canyons, the town looks like it once was the set of every shoot ’em up cowboy movie. [National Post]
But near the visitor center, which was dug into the earth, irrigated areas coaxed succulent blooms from cactuses. [Minneapolis Star Tribune]
One room has been converted into a type of conservatory, with tiny monkeys swinging from plants, cacti growing out of an old ball-and-claw couch and succulents everywhere. [Mail and Guardian]
All cacti are succulents, but many other plant families include succulent species. [Monterey County Herald]
Wrapping It Up
Bottom line, you can use either the more commonly used Latin plural cacti or the English version cactuses. And you won’t even be wrong if you use cactus in plural form either. Much of this is due to the changes words undergo through years of use, becoming easier to understand and more acceptable to societal norms.
Yes, language is weird, but at least we have Grammarist to help explain that weirdness to us. If you loved this article, please share!