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Now, I encountered a sentence in a text book, saying

Many fish are specially adapted to live only in certain places.

I know that plural of the word fish can be fish as Merriam says

screenshot of the dictionary entry for "fish"

But wouldn't it someway or somewhat sound unusual or "too unique"?

Is it only to me?

1 Answer 1

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Fish is certainly the most common and arguably correct plural of the word "fish". However, "fishes" is an archaic plural form, and is apparently also used in some situations which I will go on to explain.

An example of the archaic use of "fishes" as plural is the biblical account of a miracle involving "five loaves and two fishes". Actually modern English translations of this use "fish" as the plural, but people of a certain age were taught this in school from the King James version (1611) and as a result many people still refer to this as the miracle involving "five loaves and two fishes"! This idiom may even have been passed on to younger generations.

The collective term for fish is a school, or shoal. You would correctly refer to a school of fish - not "fishes".

However, I found this use of "fishes" as a plural in a scientific textbook from 1968. The book is even titled "Deep Water Fishes of California"!

Unless a marine biologist here can advise otherwise, it would seem that it is also acceptable to use fishes when referring to more than one type of fish, although it should equally be correct to say "different types of fish".

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    Yes, the regular plural fishes is used for multiple kinds of fish. No, it is not archaic in that sense, but you might think so if you read the start of this answer. Yes, the zero plural fish is otherwise the usual choice.
    – user230
    Jun 14, 2018 at 14:38
  • @snailboat I've amended my answer to make it clearer I was detailing two different situations where "fishes" might be used. It was never my intention to suggest that all uses were archaic. Thank you.
    – Astralbee
    Jun 14, 2018 at 14:44
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    I would have expected fishes to be newer than fish, as a construct of people learning the language not knowing of the singular/plural nature of fish. Very interesting. I was taught the loves and fishes and never noticed.
    – WendyG
    Jun 14, 2018 at 14:56
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    carp, [...], salmon, trout, turbot – These (and others of the same semantic class) almost always have base plurals: We caught three salmon. However, with some, if not all, the regular ·s plural might be used when referring to fish being purchased for food, especially when there is reference to individuals, as in three herrings – as well as with reference to “kinds of”, as with count uses of basically non-count nouns […]. The noun fish itself, with base plural fish and regular fishes, is also of this type, and similarly such compounds as goldfish and swordfish.
    – user3395
    Jun 14, 2018 at 16:09
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    ^ The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston and Pullum (2002, p.1588).
    – user3395
    Jun 14, 2018 at 16:10

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