plural opossums also opossum
: any of a family (Didelphidae) of small- to medium-sized American marsupials that usually have a pointed snout and nearly hairless scaly prehensile tail, are typically active at night, and are sometimes hunted for their fur or meat
especially : a common omnivorous largely nocturnal mammal (Didelphis virginiana) of North and Central America that is a skilled climber, that typically has a white face and grayish body and in the female a well-developed fur-lined pouch, and that when threatened may feign death by curling up the body and remaining motionless and unresponsive

Illustration of opossum

Illustration of opossum
  • opossum 1

Examples of opossum in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Early in the morning on Jan. 27, a security camera at a Southlake, Texas, home caught an opossum — the only marsupial native to North America — swiping a package off the porch. Kelli Bender, Peoplemag, 1 Feb. 2024 The art and included stickers are incredible—cowboy boots and opossums? Medea Giordano, WIRED, 3 Jan. 2024 While both possums and opossums are marsupials — the two animals have their differences. Sydney Borchers, Fox News, 17 Dec. 2023 In another legend, an opossum steals mezcal from a gang of demons and gifts it to mankind. Tucker Harris, Washington Post, 23 Jan. 2024 Observed in sleeping infants in 1953, REM was soon identified in other mammals such as cats, mice, horses, sheep, opossums, and armadillos. Carolyn Wilke, Ars Technica, 2 Sep. 2023 Australian possums have shorter, less pointed snouts in comparison to the opossums found in North America. Sydney Borchers, Fox News, 17 Dec. 2023 Fluorescent anatomy, which recently seemed to be a quirk in unusual animals such as platypuses and opossums, was found in most living families of mammals. Cara Giaimo, New York Times, 20 Oct. 2023 Observed in sleeping infants in 1953, REM was soon identified in other mammals such as cats, mice, horses, sheep, opossums and armadillos. Carolyn Wilke, Smithsonian Magazine, 13 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'opossum.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


earlier apossoun, opassom, borrowed from a Virginia Algonquian word of uncertain form, going back to Algonquian *wa·p- "white" + *-aʔθemw- "dog, small animal"

First Known Use

1610, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of opossum was in 1610

Dictionary Entries Near opossum

Cite this Entry

“Opossum.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/opossum. Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


opos·​sum (ə-)ˈpäs-əm How to pronounce opossum (audio)
plural opossums also opossum
: a common marsupial mammal mostly of the eastern U.S. that usually is active at night, has a tail that can wrap around and grasp objects (as tree branches), and is an expert climber

from apossoun, opassom, a word in an Algonquian language of Virginia meaning, literally, "white dog"

More from Merriam-Webster on opossum

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