Make Your Editor Cry: Hippopotamus (Awkward Plural)

Make Your Editor Cry: Hippopotamus (Awkward Plural)

BLUF: (Bottom Line Up Front)
The plural of hippopotamus is hippopotamuses or erroneously hippopotami and informally hippos.

The definition of hippopotamus: any of a family (Hippopotamidae) of very large, four-toed, chiefly aquatic, herbivorous artiodactyl mammals having a very large head and mouth, nearly hairless thick grayish skin, long lower canine teeth, and relatively short legs, and including two living species:

The singular of hippopotamus is hippopotamus. The plural of hippopotamus is hippopotamuses or informally hippos. Depending on the formality of your narrative you can use any one of these, just be consistent throughout the entire text. More than one hippopotamus can also erroneously be referred to as hippopotami.

Even though the noun hippopotamus has a Greek root—hippopotamos, alteration of hippos potamios, literally, riverine horse—it is often assigned the Latin plural hippopotami. So, the plural form hippopotami is technically an error. Nevertheless, the word hippopotami has become an acceptable plural for hippopotamus. (Of note, the word hippopotami is often used by pedants with a highbrow tone, believing it to be correct. It is therefore ironic that the term is based on an error.) The plural hippopotamuses, which conforms to the standard rules for forming plurals, is more common than hippopotami.

The informal shortened version hippos is often used to avoid to making a decision between hippopotamuses and hippopotami.

Hippopotamuses live in groups of up to thirty.
Though they are bulky animals, hippopotami can gallop at 19 mph on land.
Each year in the African continent, more people are killed by hippos than crocodiles.

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