Plural of Hippopotamus: Understanding the Correct Form

  • “Hippopotamuses” and “hippopotami” are both correct plural forms of “hippopotamus.”
  • “Hippopotamus” refers to a large aquatic mammal, with two species: the common and the pygmy hippopotamus.
  • Despite superficial resemblances, hippos and rhinoceroses belong to different taxonomic families.

Understanding the specifics of the term “hippopotamus” also implicates its meaning and origin. The word refers to a large herbivorous mammal, primarily aquatic, known for its barrel-shaped body, immense mouth, and nearly hairless skin. There are two species found in Africa: the common hippopotamus and the much smaller relative, the pygmy hippopotamus. While these creatures share certain physical attributes with rhinoceroses, such as thick skin, their taxonomic families are distinct.

What is the plural form of “hippopotamus”?

When considering the term hippopotamus, one might wonder about its correct plural form. Due to its Greek roots, the word possesses a somewhat irregular pluralization in English. The plural can be formed in two accepted ways in the English language. Here is a concise exposition on the subject:

Standard English Pluralization:
The majority of English plurals are formed by adding an “-s” or “-es” to the end of the singular noun. Following this rule, one appropriate plural form is:

  • hippopotamuses

Classical Pluralization:
Given the word’s Greek origin, an alternative plural form obeys classical pluralization rules, leading to:

  • hippopotami
HippopotamusesPreferred in general English contexts.
HippopotamiUsed by individuals preferring a classical approach to plurals.

In spoken and written English, both “hippopotamuses” and “hippopotami” are correct and widely understood, although “hippopotamuses” aligns more closely with standard English conventions.

Common Usage:
Simplification often occurs in informal contexts, with “hippos” serving as a short, easily recognized form. It is universally accepted in colloquial speech and writing:

  • Hippos
HipposInformal and conversational; widely accepted and used.

Experts support the pluralization of the word as hippopotamuses or hippopotami, acknowledging both as correct, while noting that “hippopotamuses” may align more closely with contemporary usage patterns in English. As the language evolves, the prevalence of “hippopotami” provides an example of the English language’s adaptability and historical depth.

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What is a Hippopotamus?

The hippopotamus is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal that is native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is recognized by its barrel-shaped torso, enormous mouth and teeth, nearly hairless body, and its size. Hippopotamuses are considered the third-largest living land mammals by weight, following elephants and white rhinos.

Notable Characteristics:

  • Size: They can weigh up to 3,000 kilograms.
  • Skin: Their skin is thick and nearly hairless.
  • Teeth: Notably large canines.
  • Lifestyle: Semi-aquatic, spending a substantial amount of time in water bodies such as rivers and lakes.

Behavioral Traits:

  • They are known to be highly territorial in water.
  • Despite their bulk, they can outrun humans over short distances.
  • They typically live in groups, known as “bloats” or “schools.”

Physical Attributes:

SkinA nearly hairless, thick hide that secretes a natural sunscreen known as “blood sweat.”
MouthCapable of opening nearly four feet wide.
Legs and FeetShort legs with webbed feet, aiding in swimming.

Habitat and Distribution:

AfricaSub-Saharan rivers and wetlands

Do hippos and rhinoceroses share similarities?

Hippos and rhinoceroses are both massive animals that inherently draw attention due to their size and unique physical characteristics. Popular as African wildlife, these animals roam different habitats but cross paths in the realm of public curiosity. Investigating their similarities may lead to a better understanding of their behavior, life cycles, and ecological importance.

Physical Traits
Both creatures have thick, gray skin that acts as armor against predators and environmental challenges. They possess large bodies, which, despite their herbivorous diets, allow them to be considered among the heaviest land mammals.

Thick, gray skinThick, gray skin
Large bodiesLarge bodies
Mostly nocturnalVaries by species

Dietary Habits
Hippos and rhinos share herbivorous feeding habits, meaning plants constitute their primary source of nutrition. The rhinos’ diet, which includes leaves, branches, and shrubs, differs from that of hippos, who mainly consume grass.

  • Hippopotamus: Mostly grass
  • Rhinoceros: Leaves, branches, and shrubs

Social Behavior
Hippos are known for their social nature, often found in groups called pods, whereas rhinoceros interactions can vary greatly, ranging from solitary to small groups depending on the species.

  • Hippopotamus: Lives in pods
  • Rhinoceros: Solitary or in small groups, species-dependent
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What is the reason for using “hippopotami” as the plural form of “hippopotamus”?

The term hippopotami emerges from the tendency in the English language to adopt Latin or Greek endings when forming plurals, particularly with words that have classical origins. Hippopotamus originates from the Greek word ‘hippopotamos,’ which translates to “river horse,” composed from ‘hippos’ (horse) and ‘potamos’ (river).

Historical Usage

Greek TermMeaning in EnglishUsage
HippopotamosRiver HorseThe singular term for the semi-aquatic mammal known as the hippopotamus.
HippopotamoiRiver HorsesAn earlier version of the plural term in Greek.

Modern Usage

Accepted Plural FormsNotes
HippopotamusesReflects standard English pluralization rules by adding -es.
HippopotamiPreserves the Greek root by replacing -us with -i.
  • “Hippopotamuses” aligns with the general English practice of adding ‘-es’ to words ending in ‘-us.’
  • “Hippopotami” is the result of following the tradition of Latin and Greek plurals that replace ‘-us’ with ‘-i.’

While both “hippopotami” and “hippopotamuses” are correct, the choice often depends on the formality of the context or the preference for classical versus modern English styles. The form hippopotami might be favored in formal or scientific texts to reflect the classical roots, whereas hippopotamuses may be more commonly used in everyday language as it follows more straightforward English pluralization rules. Additionally, “hippos” serves as an informal and convenient shorthand that sidesteps the issue entirely.

Usage of “hippopotami” conveys a sense of classical erudition, reflecting the speaker’s or writer’s adherence to traditional forms derived from the language’s historical layers.

What is the singular form of the word “hippopotamus”?

The singular form of “hippopotamus” remains unchanged, representing just one of these large, semi-aquatic mammals. Understanding the singular and plural forms of nouns, especially irregular ones, is crucial in mastering the intricacies of the language.

Irregular Plural Nouns

Regular Plural NounsIrregular Plural Nouns
Adds “-s” or “-es”Changes form entirely
Examples: cats, boxesExamples: mice, feet

Irregular plural nouns deviate from standard pluralization rules, making English a challenging language to learn. The word “hippopotamus” has an irregular plural form, which can cause confusion. Unlike regular nouns, which commonly add an “-s” or “-es” to form the plural, irregular nouns often change in a unique way or remain the same.

  • Regular example: “cat” becomes “cats.”
  • Irregular example: “mouse” becomes “mice.”
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Hippopotamus is rooted in Greek, leading to its non-standard pluralization. It can be pluralized in more than one way, illustrating how English absorbs and adapts linguistic influences.

Examples of Hippopotamus & Hippo Used in Context

When speaking about the majestic creatures residing in Sub-Saharan Africa, we refer to them as hippopotamuses or hippos. Both terms are correct, yet they serve different contexts.

  • Formal Writing:
    In academic or scientific texts, the term “hippopotamus” is preferred.
WordContext Example
HippopotamusA group of hippopotamuses bask on the riverbanks, their massive forms barely contained by the sun-drenched mud.
HippoContrarily, “hippo” shines in casual discourse or when addressing children.
  • Informal Use:
WordContext Example
HippoWhen visiting the zoo, children are immediately drawn to the exhibit featuring hippos, delighting in their playful splashing.
  • Variations in Plurality:

In literature, the decision to use “hippo” over “hippopotamus” can influence the tone of a narrative, where the shorter, endearing “hippo” often adds a touch of warmth or whimsy. Thus, “hippopotamus” retains a formal dignity befitting scientific or educational dialogue.

Examples of hippopotami & hippopotamuses used in context:

Words borrowed from Latin or Greek often retain their original plural forms, creating variations in the way we pluralize them. Hippopotamus is one such word, with two correct pluralizations: “hippopotami” and “hippopotamuses”. Here are examples illustrating the use of both forms in sentences:

Table 1: Using hippopotami in Sentences

Sentence ExampleContext Note
A bloat of hippopotami basked in the midday sun.“Hippopotami” aligns with the word’s Latin origins.
In the nature documentary, they focused on hippopotami in their natural habitat.Here the plural form emphasizes the scholarly tone.

Table 2: Using hippopotamuses in Sentences

Sentence ExampleContext Note
The zoo’s new exhibit features several hippopotamuses.“Hippopotamuses” follows regular English pluralization rules.
Children were delighted to see a group of hippopotamuses during their field trip.The English plural form is more intuitive for common use.

The use of either “hippopotami” or “hippopotamuses” can depend on the context in which the word is used:

  • Formal or scientific contexts may prefer hippopotami, with its classical associations.
  • More casual or colloquial English often opts for hippopotamuses, as it follows typical English pluralization patterns, making it more relatable to the general audience.

In literature and media, these variations occur quite frequently:

  • “The novelist described a scene where the hippopotami emerged from the river at dusk.”
  • “The children’s book character, Hungry Hippo, loves to play with his friends, the other hippopotamuses, in the muddy waters.”

These examples demonstrate how both versions of the plural fit within different contexts, with neither being incorrect. They also reflect the flexibility of English in accommodating different plural forms.

What are some collective nouns for a group of hippos?

When discussing the majestic hippopotamus, one often pictures a solitary animal lounging in a river. However, hippos are actually quite social and are often found in groups. In the English language, specific terms are utilized to refer to a collection of animals, and hippos are no exception.

Collective Nouns:

The English language is abundant with collective nouns, many of which date back centuries. For a group of hippos, there are a couple of terms that may be used:

  • A Bloat: The most widely recognized collective noun for hippos. This evocative term reflects the significant size that these creatures are known for.
  • A Crash: While less common, this term is also occasionally used to describe a group of hippos.

Usage in Sentences:

These nouns can be used in a sentence structure to describe a visual picture of these animals in their natural social groups.

  • “On our safari, we observed a bloat of hippos basking by the riverbank.”
  • “The tour guide pointed out a crash of hippos submerged in the water.”
Collective NounExample Sentence
BloatA bloat of hippos dominated the landscape, their massive forms a testament to nature’s grandeur.
CrashHearing a commotion, we turned to witness a crash of hippos playfully sparring in the lagoon.

It’s notable that while “bloat” and “crash” are two terms associated with hippos, “bloat” is more commonly referenced and linked to the animal’s unique attributes, especially its large size and tendency to be found in water sources.

Including such vivid collective nouns in the vocabulary enables speakers and writers to convey more colorful and precise descriptions of these incredible animals in their communal settings.


  1. Wikipedia, hippopotamus.
  2. Hippo-vs-rhino
  3. Origin of hippo the word
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