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Fish or Fishes?

Is the plural of fish fish or fishesit depends.

By
Mignon Fogarty,

Fish is the most common plural form of the word fish, as in Squiggly brought home fish for the aquarium, but there are some instances in which people use fishes instead:

  • Scientists who study fish (ichthyologists), for example, often refer to different species as fishes. A quick Google Books search returns many scientific tomes talking about the different kinds of fishes that researchers have found in various regions, such as thirty kinds of fishes off the coast of California and 149 kinds of fishes in Minnesota.

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  • In the Bible, Jesus feeds thousands of people with loaves and fishes
  • The movie The Godfather popularized the saying that someone sleeps with the fishes to indicate that he or she has been killed by the mob and dumped in the water. 
  • A few different sayings begin with If wishes were fishes. The most common one I’ve seen is If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets into the sea.

The Quick and Dirty Tip is that the plural of fish is fish, unless you’re writing about different species of fish, are a mobster, are quoting the Bible, or are trying to make a rhyme.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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