Merriam-Webster Settles the ‘Octopuses v. Octopi’ Debate Once and For All

If you see one octopus, you’re probably going to call it an octopus, yes? Makes sense. But what happens if out from behind that octopus emerges one more? Now, you’re looking at two… what? Octopuses? Or is it octopi? It’s a grammar question that snobs have been annoying their friends about for years, but which term is the correct one to use when referring to more than one octopus?

It would be fair to call Merriam-Webster an authority on language, so when the dictionary maker speaks, we listen. They’ve provided an answer to the “octopus v. octopi” debate, and the proper word to use is… well, both of them are fine, but technically, “octopuses” is “more right.”

In the video above, Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster, explains how we even got to this point. When “octopus” was first mentioned in the English language in the mid-1700s, it was pluralized as “octopuses.” That said, some grammarians wanted English to be like the less irregular Latin language, so they started putting Latin pluralizations on Latin-based English words, which led to “octopi.”

However, “octopus” actually comes from Greek, so it later got the super-rare pluralization, “octopodes” (pronounced ock-TOP-uh-deez). Here’s the kicker, though: Ultimately, octopus is an English word, and as such, it has an English pluralization, meaning that “octopuses” is correct according to the conventions of the English language.

The verdict: Say whatever you want (even octopodes, we suppose), but know that in modern English, “octopuses” makes the most sense. What other grammar questions would you like a definitive answer to? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Featured image: Octopus by Scott Ableman

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