I read that in scientific contexts native speakers use "fishes." Is it used by scientists to refer to the same fish or different fish? Because if we are talking about a variety of fish it's not wrong to use "fishes."

If I am talking about my fish in the tank which would be grammatical and natural: "I have ten fish in my tank," I mean all are the same and "I have ten different fishes" meaning they are not the same.

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    "I read that in scientific contexts native speakers use "fishes." " I am not aware of this rule. Where did you read this? Do you have a link to the text? Feb 19, 2021 at 18:18
  • According to the 1993 Columbia Guide to Standard American English, the word "fishes" is (a) archaic (as in Biblical use) or (b) used by biologists to distinguish various kinds of fish. Feb 19, 2021 at 18:54
  • Some native speakers on usingEnglish.com mention the use of "fishes" in scientific contexts. Feb 19, 2021 at 18:55
  • I found this question: "Is "jellyfish", like "fish", used with "es" in the plural if there is a scientific context?" "Yes" was the answer. But does "yes" refer to the same or different fish in scientific contexts? Feb 19, 2021 at 18:58
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    Does this answer your question? Fish vs Fishes for plural use
    – ColleenV
    Feb 19, 2021 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


It is generally accepted as correct to use "fishes" to mean "multiple types of fish".

Fishes of the World (title on a poster at my local fish and chip shop showing picture of many different types of fish)

It is non-standard (but quite common) to use "fishes" to mean multiple individual fish.

Because of this ambiguity, it is not common to say "There are three fishes". Instead you should say "There are three types of fish" (or species of... etc). But sometimes the context makes the meaning clear

It is quite common to use "fishes" to many "many fish of many species",

The fishes in the North sea have started to recover since quotas were introduced.

The primary purpose of this book is to provide for the identification of the 300 most common fishes that one might observe while snorkeling or diving on reefs of the Caribbean Sea

(in the latter, it should be obvious that there are more than 300 individual fish in the Caribbean sea)

If you say "I have 10 fish in my tank" I'd assume you mean ten individuals They might be all the same species, or they might be several different species.

If you say "I have 10 fishes in my tank" It might be understood to mean 10 individuals, or 10 species. It probably doesn't mean 10 that are the same.

<>< <>< <>< = 3 fish, some fish

<>< ()< <>< = 3 fish, some fishes

<>< <>< ()< ()< ()< [}< [}< = 7 fish, 3 fishes

  • By "multiple types of fish" do mean different fish and by by "multiple individual fish" do you mean the same fish? Do scientists use "fishes" to refer to different types of fish only? Feb 20, 2021 at 6:30
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    See the examples. "Fishes" is not normally used for a few fish of one type. Do you have a particular example in mind?
    – James K
    Feb 20, 2021 at 7:53
  • You said "It is non-standard (but quite common) to use "fishes" to mean multiple individual fish" are you talking about a few fish of one type? If I understand correctly then both "fishes" and "fish" are used to refer to fish of one type and to different types of fish too. But as you said "fishes" it is not standard form to use to refer to the same fish but it's still used. Feb 20, 2021 at 7:57

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