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I have stumbled upon this picture.

enter image description here

Is correct that one can refer to more than one species as "fishes"? Is it a common usage?

None of the following site questions or online dictionary gave me an exact answer:

However, I have found the following usage:

We collected 2681 fishes, representing 46 species and 10 families.

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  • "it would seem that it is also acceptable to use fishes when referring to more than one type of fish" Does that not answer the question ell.stackexchange.com/questions/169472/…
    – James K
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 14:05
  • In the sentence you cited, I feel there is a great emphasis on each fish individually (also note the exact count). Compare it with "fish" or "a school of fish" where they would be perceived collectively). That said, to my non-native modern ear, it sounds a bit awkward/old-fashioned. Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 14:52
  • Notice that is says: can use, which does not mean: you have to use it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 15:05
  • @Lambie That's why I asked "Is it a common usage?". Commented Dec 27, 2021 at 15:08

2 Answers 2

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Yes, this usage can be heard. However, in North American English, at least, it would be more common and comprehensible to say "types of fish" or "kinds of fish".

Note that some people use "fishes" as the plural of "fish"anyway, and they raise eyebrows, but it's not impossible. I wonder if this is what makes this usage sound plausible, whereas I would find "sheeps" for "kinds of sheep" very strange.

There are some nouns this seems to work better for this operation than others. For example, "five meats", based on the mass noun "meat", clearly means "five kinds of meat". But "five beers" could mean five bottles or five kinds — even though "beer" is also originally a mass noun. In most cases, you can just add "different" and talk about "five different beers" to be clearer.

"Five different fish", on the other hand, is more ambiguous. I picture five individual fish, whether the same kind or not. (Like saying that five different people called you.) "Five different fishes" just sounds questionable. But "five (different) kinds of fish" is clear.

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From grammarly.com...

The plural of fish is usually fish.
When referring to more than one species of fish,
especially in a scientific context,
you can use fishes as the plural.

In short, using "fishes" like this is a "convention" observed by some in the scientific community. But not everyone would recognise the distinction anyway, so unless you work in that "domain-specific" context (in which case you should copy whatever usage you encounter from Anglophone colleagues or research texts), I think the safest thing is to forget about fishes (which most non-scientists today would simply think of as "quaint, old-fashioned" anyway).

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