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a brushtail possum in Australia


Derived from opossum by apheresis.


  • enPR: pŏs'əm, IPA(key): /ˈpɒsəm/[1][2]
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɒsəm


possum (plural possums)

  1. (US) An opossum, a marsupial of the family Didelphidae of the Americas.
  2. Any of the marsupials in several families of the order Diprotodontia of Australia and neighboring islands.

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possum (third-person singular simple present possums, present participle possuming, simple past and past participle possumed)

  1. (intransitive) To play possum; to feign sleep, illness, or death.


  1. ^ possum”, in Dictionary.com Unabridged, Dictionary.com, LLC, 1995–present.
  2. ^ possum”, in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1996–present.



From Proto-Italic *possom, from *potis (master in control of) + *som (I am). Cognates include Oscan púttiad (they can) and South Picene puti (I could).



possum (present infinitive posse, perfect active potuī); irregular conjugation, irregular, no passive

  1. I am able, I can, I may
    • 29 BCE – 19 BCE, Virgil, Aeneid 1.39-41:
      “[...] Pallāsne exūrere classem
      Argīvum atque ipsōs potuit submergere pontō,
      ūnīus ob noxam et furiās Aiācis Oīlēī?”
      “Was not Pallas able to burn the Argive fleet and to drown [the men] themselves in the sea – [all] because of the crime and fury of [just] one man, Ajax, [son] of Oileus?”
      (Pallas or Athena meted divine retribution after the fall of Troy; there the Argive/Greek invaders had desecrated Athena’s temple, in which Ajax the Lesser assaulted Cassandra.)
    • 8 CE – 12 CE, Ovid, Tristia 1.57-58:
      tū tamen ī prō mē, tū, cui licet, aspice Rōmam,
      dī facerent, possem nunc meus esse līber!
      Nevertheless, you go instead of me – you, to whom it is allowed, behold [the city of] Rome – Gods! [If only you] would grant [it], [that] now I would be able to be my book!
      (The exiled poet addresses his book as if it were a living emissary that he will send to Rome in his place. The optative subjunctive “facerent” expresses a wish, followed by the jussive subunctive “possem” stating what the writer believes should be done.)
    Synonyms: polleō, queō, valeō, praevaleō, vigeō
    Antonym: nequeō
    • Tunc, modo edere non potuitAt that time, he just wasn't able to eat
    • Possum Latine loquiI am able to speak in Latin
    • Potesne mihi succurrere, quaeso?Can you help me please?


This verb is irregular, but resembles sum prefixed with pot-. Several contractions and simplifications occur, however: -ts- → -ss-, -tf- → -t-, -tess- → -ss- (note that potēns does not originate from non-existent *fēns).

In Vulgar Latin, the first person singular is changed to possō (causing the verb to be treated like a third conjugation verb (base poss-) in the present subjunctive (*possam, *possās)), though the rest of the verb became the second conjugation verb potēre ((tu) *potēs, (is/ea/id) *potet, (nōs) *potēmus, (vōs) *potētis, and (/eae/ea) *possunt), based on forms like potuī and potēns, just like velle (infinitive of volō) was reformed to *volēre after forms like voluī and volēns.

However, Osco-Umbrian forms confirm that a Proto-Italic verb Proto-Italic *poteō (to be master) (stem *pot-ē-) must also be reconstructed that, although lost in Latin otherwise, appears to have been the ultimate historical source of potuī and potēns.[1]

   Conjugation of possum (highly irregular, suppletive, active only)
indicative singular plural
first second third first second third
active present possum potes potest possumus potestis possunt
imperfect poteram poterās poterat poterāmus poterātis poterant
future poterō poteris,
poterit poterimus poteritis poterunt
perfect potuī potuistī potuit potuimus potuistis potuērunt,
pluperfect potueram potuerās potuerat potuerāmus potuerātis potuerant
future perfect potuerō potueris potuerit potuerimus potueritis potuerint
subjunctive singular plural
first second third first second third
active present possim possīs possit possīmus possītis possint
imperfect possem possēs posset possēmus possētis possent
perfect potuerim potuerīs potuerit potuerīmus potuerītis potuerint
pluperfect potuissem potuissēs potuisset potuissēmus potuissētis potuissent
non-finite forms active passive
present perfect future present perfect future
infinitives posse potuisse
participles potēns


This entry needs quotations to illustrate usage. If you come across any interesting, durably archived quotes then please add them!

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  • Vulgar Latin: possō (see there for further descendants)


  1. ^ De Vaan, Michiel (2008), “potis, pote”, in Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages (Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series; 7), Leiden, Boston: Brill, →ISBN, page 484f.
  • possum”, in Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short (1879) A Latin Dictionary, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • possum”, in Charlton T. Lewis (1891) An Elementary Latin Dictionary, New York: Harper & Brothers
  • possum in Gaffiot, Félix (1934) Dictionnaire illustré latin-français, Hachette
  • Carl Meißner; Henry William Auden (1894) Latin Phrase-Book[1], London: Macmillan and Co.
    • to give a man the opportunity of doing a thing: facultatem alicui dare alicuius rei or ut possit...
    • I cannot make myself believe that..: non possum adduci, ut (credam)
    • I cannot bring myself to..: a me impetrare non possum, ut
    • he is a young man of great promise: adulescens alios bene de se sperare iubet, bonam spem ostendit or alii de adulescente bene sperare possunt
    • I have exhausted all my material: copiam quam potui persecutus sum
    • movable, personal property: res, quae moveri possunt; res moventes (Liv. 5. 25. 6)
    • to isolate a witness: aliquem a ceteris separare et in arcam conicere ne quis cum eo colloqui possit (Mil. 22. 60)
    • men of military age: qui arma ferre possunt or iuventus
    • men exempt from service owing to age: qui per aetatem arma ferre non possunt or aetate ad bellum inutiles
    • by the longest possible forced marches: quam maximis itineribus (potest)
    • this can be said of..., applies to..: hoc dici potest de aliqua re
    • this can be said of..., applies to..: hoc transferri potest in aliquid
    • I cannot find words for..: dici vix (non) potest or vix potest dici (vix like non always before potest)
    • without wishing to boast, yet..: quod vere praedicare possum
    • that is self-evident, goes without saying: hoc facile intellegi potest
    • from this it appears, is apparent: ex quo intellegitur or intellegi potest, debet
    • (ambiguous) to be scarcely able to restrain one's laughter: risum tenere vix posse
    • (ambiguous) to be scarcely able to restrain one's laughter: risum aegre continere posse
    • (ambiguous) to be hardly able to restrain one's tears: lacrimas tenere non posse
    • (ambiguous) to be hardly able to restrain one's tears: fletum cohibere non posse
    • (ambiguous) to be unable to speak for emotion: prae lacrimis loqui non posse
    • (ambiguous) to be unable to sleep: somnum capere non posse
    • (ambiguous) to have great influence with a person; to have considerable weight: multum auctoritate valere, posse apud aliquem
    • (ambiguous) to have great weight as a speaker: multum dicendo valere, posse
    • (ambiguous) to be unable to say all one wants: verbis non omnia exsequi posse
    • (ambiguous) to have a powerful navy: navibus plurimum posse
  • possum in Ramminger, Johann (accessed 16 July 2016) Neulateinische Wortliste: Ein Wörterbuch des Lateinischen von Petrarca bis 1700[2], pre-publication website, 2005-2016