Fish or Fishes

March 3, 2007

This has been something that has haunted me for-like-eva…

I was taught that fish was both plural and singular and that fishes was imroper.

Circa, 1989 as watching Sesame Street while getting ready for work one morning (don’t ask) and I heard the word fishes being used throughout the whole episode. It annoyed me that a bunch of kids were being taught incorrectly. Then about 2 1/2 years ago while watching Sesame Street with my son, I again heard the word fishes thrown around like a 10 cent whole (something my husband would say). I quickly shut off the TV saving my son from years of improper grammer or so I thought.

Last week my friend and I discussed the fish, fishes usage over the phone. We were both taught the same thing and that fish’s was only used to define ownership such as in “my fish’s fin is broken.” Well, anyway she looked it up while we were on the phone and lo and befriggin hold, fishes is correct too! What?

This morning when my son asked for my “gold fishes” I corrected him and then decided to finally read for myself how to properly use each word. (I must have run out of things to do this morning to find time for this).

According to Wikipedia, this is how to correctly use fish versus fishes. I think I’ve got it now and my son’s usage this morning was totally incorrect since we only have chedder fish.

“Fish” or “fishes”, “school” or ‘”shoal”?

Though often used interchangeably, these pairs of words actually mean different things. Fish is used either as singular noun or to describe a group of specimens from a single species. Fishes describes a group containing more than one species. [32] Hence, as plurals, these words could be used thus:

  • My aquarium contains three different fishes: guppies, platies, and swordtails.
  • The North Atlantic stock of Gadus morhua is estimated to contain several million fish.

A random assemblage of fishes merely using some localised resource such as food or nesting sites is known simply as an aggregation. When fish come together in an interactive, social grouping, then they may be forming either a shoal or a school depending on the degree of organisation. A shoal is a loosely organised group where each fish swims and forages independently but is attracted to other members of the group and adjusts its behaviour, such as swimming speed, so that it remains close to the other members of the group. Schools of fish are much more tightly organised, synchronising their swimming so that all fish move at the same speed and in the same direction. Shoaling and schooling behaviour is believed to provide a variety of advantages (see article on swarming, the term used to cover such behaviours in animals). [33]

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