What Is the Plural for Octopus?

(Last Updated On: May 12, 2022)

The octopus. Widely considered one of the smartest animals around, they’re good at messing with aquarium employees or even using tools. Such genius might have you afraid of the octopus being a far less solitary animal than we originally thought. Anyway, if they’re going to unite and rise up against us, we should probably figure out how to refer to multiples of them. Of which you’ve probably heard at least three different plurals: octopi, octopuses, and octopodes. So… which one is it? What is the plural for octopus?

Wait… Octopodes?

If you go back through the etymology of the word “octopus” you’re going to get the Greek oktōpous. Turns out, the word “octopus” is a Latinized version of the Greek word. It also just means “eight feet.” 

So taking the classic Greek plural, you’re going to get “octopodes.” It’s not technically correct in English and you’re not going to see it outside of someone wanting to flex their linguistic knowledge on you. Now you can flex your linguistic knowledge on them! 

Moving on.

Why Is This Even a Debate?

You’re probably wondering why there even is a debate around “octopuses” and “octopi” in the first place. It’s probably a result of hypercorrection, which when you read it out loud just sounds like the entirety of Reddit or something.

Sidebar, if you want the solution to a problem don’t ask the internet for the solution. Instead, post an incorrect solution. People are going to want to correct you more than they would want to help you. But maybe we’re just jaded.

Anyway, hypercorrection. It’s using non-standard language as a result of the overapplication of some rule in linguistics. For example, the temptation to say “whom” instead of “who” to make yourself sound just that extra bit more intelligent. You might also be really against using a preposition to end a sentence. A commonly cited hypercorrection for prepositions is the question “what did you do that for?” You could be a weirdo and change it to “what was the reason that you did that?” or something absurd. Instead you can just say “why did you do that?” Now you’ve sidestepped the entire issue.

One theory for hypercorrection is literally called Virus Theory, which really just means we pick up on what other people are doing and mimic it, thus leading to changes in how we speak a language as a community. 

So Octopus and Octopi

The word “octopi” dates back to the 19th century, like its use in the Penny Magazine in 1834. Its origin is similar to “octopodes,” except instead of using the Greek plural, it uses a standard Latin plural. The “-i” in a plural is what we historically slapped onto words with Latin origins, and it was believed back then that the word “octopus” had its origins in Latin (though as we’ve covered it’s probably a Greek word). For those that want to get pedantic about what is “more” or “less” wrong, we guess that means there’s a case for “octopi” actually being less right than “octopodes”?

“Octopuses” seems to have emerged a little later according to Merriam-Webster, though still in the 19th century. The “-es” ending for pluralizing is traditional for English words, which isn’t particularly helpful when the word “octopus” has Greek roots. However, it does mean that the word definitely isn’t Latin and we’re not going to use the Latin “-i” rule.

Even with that rule in mind, not all Latin words are pluralized with “-i.” Some words like “status” are pluralized as “statuses” and not “stati,” even though that would technically be correct with a strict application of the rule. 

Anyway, “octopodes” isn’t going to see widespread use anytime soon, and many words are Anglicized to conform to English rules with the “-es” plural. So if you’re looking for something to be the “least wrong,” just sticking to “octopuses” will probably be your best bet. 

See if you can pluralize these other words here.



About Kyler 728 Articles
Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.