4

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?

3

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".

  • 2
    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. – snailcar Jun 14 '18 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 '18 at 14:44
  • 1
    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 '18 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. – userr2684291 Jun 14 '18 at 16:09
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    ^ The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston and Pullum (2002, p.1588). – userr2684291 Jun 14 '18 at 16:10
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Interestingly, LDOCE (5th version) also suggests that the plural form of fish can be fishes.

However, it doesn't mean that it would be a nice idea to use fishes because it might sound strange (to some even uneducated) but not unique. If you speak in your own way, fishes might be part of your idiolect.

Moreover, we know of some nouns (like in German) that have two plural forms, and their meanings might differ.

brother → (1.) brothers, (2.) brethren

spirit (the qualities that make someone live the way they do, and make them different from other) → spirits (the way someone feels at a particular time, for example if they are happy or sad)

...though I see no lexical contrast between fish and fishes, but if you want to express fish in plural form, here's an alternative:

shoals or schools of fish

  • 2
    (–1) There is a semantic difference between (the base plural) fish and (the regular plural) fishes. – userr2684291 Jun 14 '18 at 11:32
  • I don't understand your use of "spirit" as plural. Example sentence? – Adam Jun 14 '18 at 15:56
  • I was in high spirits after I had won the contest. – Marcus Jun 15 '18 at 8:28

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