Opossum vs Possum – When to Choose Which One and Why?

The marsupial is a type of animal that belongs to possums and opossums. But one common mistake that people do is that they think these animals are the same. Well, they are not. Even if we are clearing these things, you might still be confused first, with the spelling, and then their looks are slightly similar. So today, we will go through the differences they have with the simple definitions of Opossum vs. Possum.

opossum vs possum

How To Avoid The Opossum Vs Possum Error

How to Avoid the Opossum vs Possum Error

In the vast realm of the English language, confusions often arise due to the existence of certain homophones – words that sound alike but possess different meanings. One such thorny tangle that people often get caught in is distinguishing between two similar creatures – the opossum and the possum. These marsupials may share a striking resemblance, but they belong to entirely different animal families, and confusing them is a linguistic hiccup that is all too common. Fortunately, with a little knowledge and attention, we can easily avoid this error and celebrate the uniqueness of each of these intriguing animals.

First and foremost, let us establish the distinction between opossums and possums. Opossums, spelled with an “o” before the “p,” refer to a group of marsupials indigenous to the Americas. They are mostly seen in North or Central America, while some species can be found in South America as well. Usually identified by their greyish or brownish fur, pointy snouts, and prehensile tails, opossums have pouches in which they nurture their young. Often depicted with a rough exterior, their defining attribute is their unique reproductive system, unlike that of any other mammal.

Now we come to the possum, spelled with an “o” after the “p.” Possums, on the other hand, refer to another group of marsupials that inhabit Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and some islands nearby. Interestingly, while being cousins of the opossum, they share a broader, eclectic family tree, belonging to the Phalangeriformes order. Possums’ physical characteristics vary more widely compared to their American counterparts, with bushy tails, rounded snouts, and a plethora of marvelous colors. Australia, in particular, is a true treasure trove of unique possum species, showcasing an astonishing spectrum of fauna.

It’s quite understandable that, with these similarities between the two animals, people might mistakenly interchange the names. However, it’s important to use the correct names in order to have accurate communication. Misuse not only disserves the language itself but can also lead to misunderstandings when different geographic regions are involved. Certainly, it would be quite perplexing to an Australian to encounter a conversation about opossums roaming in Sydney or for an American to learn about an adorably cuddly possum climbing trees in New York City.

To avoid this linguistic hiccup, it is essential to stay vigilant and develop an understanding of these marvelously diverse creatures. In fact, taking the time to appreciate their unique qualities can not only improve our vocabulary, but it can also deepen our admiration for the astonishing biodiversity that our world encompasses. One way to do this is by immersing ourselves in popular culture and finding authentic sources of information that can educate us. Nature documentaries, online articles, and well-researched wildlife books can be valuable assets in broadening our knowledge and preventing linguistic missteps.

In conclusion, the opossum vs possum error is a common pitfall in the English language. However, with a little mindfulness and awareness, we can easily avoid confusion and appreciate the variety and beauty of these creatures. Correctly identifying opossums and possums not only refines our language skills but also nurtures our understanding of the natural world and the awe-inspiring creatures that inhabit it. Let us embrace the lives of opossums and possums separately and revel in their individualistic presence across continents.

Opossum vs. Possum: Difference

An opossum is a type of marsupial but a native animal of America from Didelphimorphia. While Possum is a marsupial animal, native to Australasia. Possums have the scientific name of Phalangeriformes. However, possums are more often used these days. People interchangeably use these words just like bison and buffalo. To briefly define opossum vs. Possum:

  • Opossums- commonly identified with their white faces and sharp teeth. These are native marsupial animals in America.
  • Possums- have prehensile tails and are native marsupial animals to Australia and their neighbor countries.

When to Use Opossum

Most of the time, you can use opossum or opossums when you are referring to the Virginia opossum. These are the only species you can find in Canada and the USA.

Opossums are fierce creatures due to their sharp teeth, which is the main characteristic of Virginia opossum. Virginia opossums usually have white faces, black ears, and coarse gray. Somehow the same size with a domestic cat. Opossums don’t have prehensile tails like possums of Australia. However, they are comfortable on the ground and in the trees.

When to Use Possum

Possum is a Phalangeriformes. A kind of marsupial that can be found in Australia and other Oceanic countries. They are tree-dwelling animals and are nocturnal creatures. Possums have prehensile tails, but they also have varieties of possums that have brushtail and ringtail possums. Their tails act like their fifth limb. Through their tail characteristics, they can use it to grasp and hang from the branches of trees.

Spelling Mistakes with Opossum & Possum

In English, there are lots of words that begin with “opp.” Which writer became confused with the correct spelling of opossum. These errors might be:

  • Oppossum
  • Opposum
  • Oposum
  • Opussum

These mistakes are common and take away the meaning of the word. The correct spelling is O-P-O-S-S-U-M, opossum. And do not be confused when to call that marsupial animal opossum, and an Australian tree-dwelling animal, Possum.


When to use Possum vs Opossum?

Most of the time, you can use opossum or opossums when you are referring to the Virginia opossum. And an Australian tree-dwelling animal is called Possum.

Is Opossum a Rodent?

Opossum are not Rodent. They are marsupial. They use their pouch to carry their babies. They are the only mammals with pouches in the US & Canada.

Does Possum attack?

Just like other mammals, if you try to hurt a Possum or their babies, they will attack you for rescuing themselves.

Do Possum run fast?

Possums run at the speed of 3.5 miles/hour. They do not posses any skill to attack, but they have the skill to run away quickly from the attackers. Possums are good climbers and swimmers. They can climb fences and concrete walls.


Remember that an opossum is a marsupial that is endemic to America and belongs to the Didelphimorphia family. Possums are marsupial animals that are native to Australasia.

Even the names of animals are confusing. But properly knowing their characteristics will help you define which name you will call them. Opossum vs Possum is no doubt almost similar to each as well as their spelling.

While possums and opossums both fall under the general class of marsupial, they belong to different orders and there are variation possum and other widespread possum species like the Australasian marsupials, Tasmanian pygmy possum, Brushtail possums and Australian Possums. Opossums live in North and South America, while possums live in Australia and other countries.

The possum has a furry tail, while the opossum has a bare tail. Both possums and opossums have a flexible diet and they eat various green plants and animal matter scavenged from their surroundings. In North America, the animal is officially called an opossum is a white and gray marsupial of the order Didelphimorphia. 

Are there other terms, words, or phrases that confuse you about when to use or if properly used? Hope this article helped clear key difference in possum-opossum difference. Share us what are those, and maybe we can help you find the answers to differentiate them!

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