Summertime, and the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy's rich and your ma is good-lookin'
So hush little baby, Don't you cry
("Summertime" lryics)

Is "fish are jumping" in the song "Summertime" a correct grammatical construction?

Plural of fish is fishes, right? Or if it's fish as general substance then I would expect "is". Or I missed some subtlety?


Let's look at the original sentence as a whole. The original sentence is not ungrammatical, but it is unidiomatic except in unusual circumstances.

Fish are jumping in summertime.

The complement in summertime (or in the summertime) refers to the recurrent season, and thus it is used to expresses a universal or general fact, not a particular fact, analogous to:

Trees lose their leaves in (the) autumn.

Notice the simple present, lose. The simple tense is used when we want to express a universal or general fact.

So, if we want to say that the season of the year when fish jump is the summer, we would say:

Fish jump in the summer.

If we use the particular-fact form to express a general fact, to say what always happens, the speaker is making a sort of hybrid statement like "What is happening now is an instance of what always happens":

Trees are losing their leaves in the autumn.

Fish are jumping in the summer.

An example of a situation that might call for such a statement: let's say that you are a climate-change skeptic. You could say that everything is still honky-dory on planet Earth: Trees are losing their leaves in the autumn and fish are jumping in the summer.

The meaning would be: trees continue to lose their leaves in the autumn as always and fish continue to jump in the summer as always.

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    Somebody wrongly edited my post. "Summertime" is the famous jazz song. I re-edited my post and made the question more clear: my problem is that "fish" seems singular while "are" is plural. – Fabrice NEYRET Jun 7 '17 at 16:57
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    I don't think the meaning is literally "fish are jumping in the summertime". They're separate sentences. Each phrase is describing the setting. "[it is] summertime", "the livin' is easy", "Fish are jumpin'", and "the cotton is high"... They are all separate examples describing the situation, rather than fish are jumping because it is summertime and that's when they normally do it. The lyrics describe a collection of examples of good aspects of life at the moment; reasons why things aren't as bad as they might seem, so "don't you cry". – fixer1234 Jun 7 '17 at 20:12

question a): "Is "fish are jumping" in the song "Summertime" a correct grammatical construction?"

answer: no, it isn't correct!

"The plural of fish is usually fish, but fishes has a few uses. In biology, for instance, fishes is used to refer to multiple species of fish. For example, if you say you saw four fish when scuba diving, that means you saw four individual fish, but if you say you saw four fishes, we might infer that you saw an undetermined number of fish of four different species." https://grammarist.com/usage/fish-fishes/Fish vs. fishes

question b):

"Plural of fish is fishes, right?"

Answer: no, this is wrong.

"the usual plural form fish is Fish. The older form, fishes, can be used to refer to different kinds of fish."

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/fish_1 question c):

"...Or if it's fish as general substance then I would expect "is". Or I missed some subtlety?"


yes, you've missed somethin subtle... (as many others - who might have thought, "fish are jumping" was afro-american English like: "Bess, you is my woman now!" whereby here "are" is the 2. person singular and not 3. person plural. (I think, this latest reference/personal experience must be aloud in this context!)

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According to http://grammarist.com/usage/fish-fishes/ , oppositely to dogs, birds, and cats, plural of fish is fish if it's the same species and fishes if it's different species. ( wow, is it just an exception ? )

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  • You should always include as much context as possible in your posts. Please verify my edits. Also, are you trying to answer your own question or are you providing more details? If you are trying to provide more details, please include them in your original question/post. – Em. Jun 7 '17 at 17:27
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    There are dozens, maybe hundreds of exceptions (irregular plurals), of which words that do not change form in the plural are a category, like bison or aircraft. But much as mass nouns can be pluralized when referring to varieties or portions, so can these in some instances: a tool made from three steels, and a river visited by three salmons. – choster Jun 8 '17 at 0:39
  • But then (for animals) its it arbitrary, ore is there some underlying logic (e.g. inferior animals) ? For instance concerning fruits and vegetables, contrarily to French in English one buy apple and tomato even if one seek for many instances of them (or "of it" ?) because it's the "apple material" that is meant... but then it's singular, not plural written like singular. – Fabrice NEYRET Jun 8 '17 at 7:06
  • @FabriceNEYRET For learning purposes, it's easiest just to take it as arbitrary (don't try to figure out a rule). In general, the reason is because so much of English comes from other languages, and so some words have entered English with separate plurals and others have not. Researching on a case-by-case basis may be interesting from a language perspective; but it's definitely not something native speakers do (we simply learn which is which over time, through practice - and even then, make mistakes with less common ones). – user68033 Jan 7 '19 at 13:43

Yes, "Fish are jumping" is a correct grammatical construction! It's a simple sentence with a Subject and a Verb.

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  • Not my downvote. I wish the downvoter had left a reason. There is a problem either with the verb are jumping or with the verbal complement in Summertime. The verb and complement are incompatible. are jumping expresses what is happening now. in (the) summertime expresses what happens universally/generally. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 7 '17 at 11:18
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo - Given that this is song lyrics, you're probably overthinking it, though. – stangdon Jun 7 '17 at 20:19
  • @stangdon: The question has been edited, and my response was to the original version which looked like a sentence in which in summertime was a temporal phrase. That said, this idea that song lyrics are free to be ungrammatical is not one I agree with. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 7 '17 at 20:38

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