Octopi vs. octopuses

Octopi, the supposed plural of octopus, is a favorite among fans of quirky words, but it has no etymological basis. The form was created by English speakers out of a mistaken belief that octopus is Latin and hence pluralized with an -i ending. But octopus comes from ancient Greek, where its plural is octopodes, and though it came to English via scientific Latin—one of the late varieties of Latin that kept the language alive long after it had died out as a first language—it was never a native Latin word and didn’t exist in that language until scientists borrowed it from Greek in the 18th century (and if it were a Latin word, it would take a different form and would not be pluralized with the -i ending).

All of that is beside the point, though, as octopus has been in English for centuries and is now an English word when English speakers use it, so there is no reason not to pluralize it in the English manner. Granted, some Latin and Greek plurals survive in English by convention, but octopi/octopodes is not one of them. Octopuses is far more common than octopi in edited writing of all kinds, including scientific writing.

Still, while the use of octopi can’t be justified on an etymological basis, it is not wrong. It is old enough and common enough to be considered an accepted variant.


People love octopi, so the quirky plural appears often—for example:

The former is served a martini glass, holding about a dozen mini octopi cooked in a sweet and spicy sauce … [Birmingham News]

A ban on fishing in the region may affect the market for octopi and marine-based food products popular in Los Angeles … [LAist]

Noise pollution knocks squid, octopi off balance [MSNBC]

But most edited publications use the boring but perfectly acceptable octopuses—for example:

Octopuses are highly intelligent animals and have been proven to have a strong short and long-term memory. [Telegraph]

Octopuses, turtles and rays glide along the seabed. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Cable had a great year, and media octopuses like Time Warner and News Corporation continue to find plenty of profits. [New York Times]

Octopodes appears occasionally, but it’s liable to cause confusion.

41 thoughts on “Octopi vs. octopuses”

  1. Correct or not… “octopuses” just sounds silly to me for some reason.  (Maybe because it makes me think of “octopussy.”)

      • the programmer didn’t create the dictionary he used, silly goose; only its seamless real-time typing integration on certain applications like Word documents or now a days also most web browsers have. Instant messengers as well

  2. The taxonomical origin of the word octopus in the English language is derived from the Latinization of a Greek word. Having been Latinized, octopi is correct. But also being uninformed English speakers with little to no knowledge of the actual etymological derivation of the word, octopuses is acceptable.

    • no. no. no. there’s no such thing as “Latinization of a Greek word” what the hell are you talking about? Unless you mean by “latinization” that a bunch of morons started doing exactly what the author is referring to. They thought “it ends in ‘-us’ so it must be like ‘syllabus’ or ‘alumnus’ and end in an ‘i’ when its plural.” Taxonomically speaking, “octopus” isn’t even correct, you idiot. They’re octopoda.

    • “and if it were a Latin word, it would take a different form and would not be pluralized with the -i ending” so I don’t know who to believe now…

      • Believe pdx. He googled the same article I did, it seems. Believe Google. Why do people ask questions on the web when they could google it themselves?

        • If you’ve never found a question Google can’t answer, you’re not trying very hard, digging very deep, or blazing any new trails. :)
          I recently stymied the entire internet by trying to find out how many people in Arizona routinely carry firearms. There’s no record keeping for that figure.

      • If it were a latin word it would be a new latin word. New latin words are created in the third declension, not the second. So the plural would end in -es not -i. But I can’t believe the romans didn’t have a word for octopus – probably they used the greek – so the latin word might well follow the greek rules.

        • “New latin words are created in the third declension, not the second.”

          This is the nerdiest comment on the entire page. You have my utmost respect in the matter of properly referring to multiple cephalopods. Or cephalopodes.

          • Except, it’s actually wrong. New latin words can be created in any declension. Echo became 4th declension (echo, echus), poeta became 1st declension (poeta, ae). New nerdiest.

  3. It’s not that “octopuses” is boring, it’s that it is awkward to say and sounds wrong. I also like “octopodes” the best.

    • Saying it sounds like a five year old who doesn’t quite have a grasp of the language, I agree. And now that I’ve looked here, I like octopodes. Sounds much more adult.

  4. Omnibuses. Viruses. Styluses. Anuses. Geniuses. None is written with double -s-. Only buses gets spelled as busses, but the first plural – buses – is more common.

  5. Depends on your dialect of English. In American English, we never double up on the consonants, even though there is NO REASON WE SHOULDN’T and the fact that it causes visual confusion when reading.

  6. I think many commenters here have made a valid point: It’s not that we “love quirky words” so much as “octopuses” just sounds awkward and wrong. My ears just don’t like its sound. So I prefer “octopi”, although “octopodes” sounds better (albeit more confusing).

  7. I totally disagree that “octopuses” sounds awkward. I think it is much easier to say than the word, “octopi.” “Octopuses” sounds completely acceptable to me and everything else sounds awkward and uncomfortable. The word “octopi” also makes me uncomfortable because it creates an image in my head of a chopped up octopus in bite sized pieces thrown into a pre-made grahm cracker pie crust. I couldn’t eat these brilliant creatures, and an “octo-pie” would be pretty gross.

  8. Linguistic humor, The English lesson

    We’ll begin with box, and the plural is boxes;
    But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.

    Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese,
    Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

    You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
    Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

    If the plural of man is always called men,
    Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?

    The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
    But the plural of vow is vows, not vine.

    I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
    If I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

    If one is a tooth, and a whole set are teeth,
    Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

    If the singular is this and the plural is these,
    Why shouldn’t the plural of kiss be named kese?

    Then one may be that, and three may be those,
    Yet the plural of hat would never be hose;

    We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
    But though we say mother, we never say methren.

    The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
    But imagine the feminine she, shis, and shim!

    So our English, I think, you all will agree,
    Is the craziest language you ever did see.

    I take it you already know
    Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
    Others may stumble, but not you,
    On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through?

    Well done! And now you wish, perhaps
    To learn of less familiar traps?

    Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
    That looks like beard and sounds like bird.

    And dead; it’s said like bed, not bead;
    For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!
    Watch out for meat and great and threat;
    They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

    A moth is not a moth in mother,
    Nor both in bother, broth in brother.

    And here is not a match for there,
    Or dear and fear for bear and pear.

    And then there’s dose and rose and lose,
    Just look them up, and goose and choose.

    And cork and work and card and ward,
    And font and front and word and sword.

    And do and go, then thwart and cart.
    Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start.

    A dreadful language? Why, man alive,
    I’d learned to talk it when I was five,
    And yet to write it, the more I tried,
    I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five!

  9. “Octopuses” just sounds so funny and wrong, I can’t bare to use it. “Octopi” or “Octopodes” I can live with


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