hip·​po·​pot·​a·​mus | \ ˌhi-pə-ˈpä-tə-məs How to pronounce hippopotamus (audio) \
plural hippopotamuses or hippopotami\ ˌhi-​pə-​ˈpä-​tə-​ˌmī How to pronounce hippopotami (audio) , -​(ˌ)mē \

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:
a : one (Hippopotamus amphibius) of sub-Saharan Africa that has webbing between the toes, spends most of the day in or near water, and typically weighs between 3 to 4 tons (2700 to 3600 kilograms)

Illustration of hippopotamus

Illustration of hippopotamus

Examples of hippopotamus in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Raul Arboleda/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images When Pablo Escobar died in 1993, the Colombian drug kingpin’s four adult African hippopotamuses were forgotten. Asher Elbein, New York Times, "Pablo Escobar’s Hippos Fill a Hole Left Since Ice Age Extinctions," 26 Mar. 2020 Occasionally a hippopotamus will appear on the local soccer pitch to graze. Washington Post, "Colombians grapple with a big problem: wandering hippos," 23 Feb. 2020 The woman was short and svelte with dark eyes, and the guy was tall, bald, and heavyish, and looked like a hippopotamus. Matthew Klam, The New Yorker, "The Liver," 9 Mar. 2020 California San Diego: A baby hippopotamus born at the San Diego Zoo last month has a name. USA TODAY, "Ollie the camel, cactus-juice walls, Can-Am Crown: News from around our 50 states," 2 Mar. 2020 The Nile crocodile, Cape fur seal, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, elephant, and hippopotamus were the five animals most frequently exported as skins—used to make everything from handbags to rugs. Rachel Fobar, National Geographic, "U.S. demand for pets and skins threatens some African animals," 3 Oct. 2019 The mother superior employed a hippopotamus-hide whip liberally. New York Times, "Overlooked No More: Andrée Blouin, Voice for Independence in Africa," 14 Feb. 2020 Wedges of eggplant are scored, covered in tapioca flour and fried; the resulting hunk of crisp and gooey vegetable swims in a bowl of thick and aromatic curry, as imposing as a hippopotamus in a kiddie pool. Soleil Ho, SFChronicle.com, "Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?," 18 Nov. 2019 The creatures, which at 2,500 pounds weighed nearly as much as a hippopotamus, were not just massive but also well-armed. Theresa Machemer, Smithsonian Magazine, "Gigantic Turtles Fought Epic Battles 10 Million Years Ago—and Have the Scars to Prove It," 13 Feb. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hippopotamus.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of hippopotamus

1542, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for hippopotamus

Latin, from Greek hippopotamos, alteration of hippos potamios, literally, riverine horse

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about hippopotamus

Time Traveler for hippopotamus

Time Traveler

The first known use of hippopotamus was in 1542

See more words from the same year

Statistics for hippopotamus

Last Updated

27 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Hippopotamus.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hippopotamus. Accessed 2 Jun. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for hippopotamus


How to pronounce hippopotamus (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of hippopotamus

: a large African animal that has an extremely large head and mouth and short legs and that spends most of its time in water


hip·​po·​pot·​a·​mus | \ ˌhi-pə-ˈpä-tə-məs How to pronounce hippopotamus (audio) \
plural hippopotamuses or hippopotami\ -​ˌmī \

Kids Definition of hippopotamus

: a large African animal with thick hairless brownish gray skin, a big head, and short legs that eats plants and spends most of its time in rivers

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on hippopotamus

Spanish Central: Translation of hippopotamus

Nglish: Translation of hippopotamus for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about hippopotamus

Comments on hippopotamus

What made you want to look up hippopotamus? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

May 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a blooming wisteria tree
  • Which is a synonym of exiguous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!