I love Christmas music in general, and one song that I think is especially cute goes like this:
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas.Only a hippopotamus will do.But being Grammar Girl, the song also gets me thinking about the plural of hippopotamus because it’s a common question: Is the pluralhippopotamusesorhippopotami?
'Hippopotamuses' or 'Hippopotami'?Dictionaries list both plurals, and both forms regularly appear in writing that you’ll see today.The word originally comes from Greek where it meant “river horse,” and it came into English through Latin.
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Hippopotamuses is the best choice.Hippopotami is the correct Latin plural form and still regularly appears in scientific writing, but words that come into English can also shed their Latin plurals and take the more Anglicized -s or -es form, and hippopotamuses appears more often in books and newspapers.For example, a Google Books Ngram search shows that hippopotamuses is slightly more common than hippopotami, and a New York Times Chronicle search shows that the Times clearly favors hippopotamuses—hippopotami hasn’t appeared in that paper since the 1930s. Garner’s Modern American Usage also recommends hippopotamuses.
So when 10-year-old Gayla Peevey sangAnd hippopotamuses like me tooShe was using the correct plural.
'Hippos'The New York Times also occasionally uses hippos, and although hippos sounds a little more informal, it’s a nice plural because it avoids the whole problem of which plural to use.
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Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popularLinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.