Fish or Fishes – What is the Plural of Fish?

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

If you enjoy being out on the water, you might like to try catching some fish. Or is that “fishes? Although both are proper ways to spell the plural form of fish, there are rules about how to use them as both a noun and a verb. 

The word fish can describe an animal species, but also represents an action. Both fish and fishes are appropriate to use in both noun and verb form, but they have some specific rules. Let’s look at what this means and how fish and fishes should be used. 

Fish can be a plural form and singular form and is used when referring to a single group or collection of a specific species of fish. Fishes is a more scientific use when referring to types of fish in a group or collection. You can also conjugate fish to fishes when used as a verb. 

When to Use Fish

When used as a noun, fish describes as singular fish or multiple fish. It is a common, well-recognized word and does not require the addition of an “s” to make it plural. 

Use fish to describe one fish, a school of fish, or a specific fish species. For example:

  • The fish in Lake Ignace were not biting over the weekend.
  • We saw three Manta-Ray fish during our glass bottom ocean cruise.
  • My fish, Bob, was all alone in the fishbowl before I bought him a snail. 

As a verb, use fish to describe the action of catching or trying to catch a fish. It conjugates as a regular verb. For example:

  • I love to go fishing with my father. 
  • Every chance I get, I fish with my group of friends from High School. 
  • I fished that pond every day after school for a year. 

When to Use Fishes

As a noun, fishes is a scientific term that describes more than one species of fish in a group. Fish can be used in its stead, but fishes helps you recognize there is more than one type of fish being referred to. For example:

  • The biologist was studying the diversity of the fishes in the isolated mountain lake. 
  • We saw 15 different types of fishes on our trip. 

As a verb, fishes is the simple present conjugation of the word. For example:

  • He fishes with a unique cast that allows the fly to hover just above the water’s surface.
  • She fishes with her children every chance she gets. 

How to Use Fish in a Sentence

These fish emit distress signals that are picked up on by the mulloway.  [Fishing World]

The fish are then sold as salted dry or canned. [Food Science, Sari Edelstein]

No fish were registered on Upriver Lakes, where the season has now closed after the 90 percent harvest cap was reached on Sunday. [Fon du Lac Reporter]

How to Use Fishes in a Sentence

Those most in jeopardy were the smaller fishes with specialized eating and sheltering habits. [U.S. News & World Report]

Swim with the fishes at Factory Obscura’s latest art installation. [News 9]

Let’s Review

Fish and fishes are correct spellings and serve as a noun in both singular and plural forms or as a verb. Fish is an acceptable use to describe a single fish or any group of fish. Fishes is used to describe multiple species of fish collectively and is more scientific. 

As a verb, fish describes the action of fishing, and fishes is the simple present tense of the word.