Fish or Fishes: What’s the Difference?

There are many creatures that live in the water. Some taste good, and some do not. Some have scales, and others have hard shells.

Fish are one group of these animals. Some English speakers aren’t sure how to refer to more than one fish. Should you use fish, or fishes? Read on to find out.

What is the Difference Between Fish and Fishes?

In this post, I will explore fish vs. fishes. I will use each word in a sentence to illustrate its proper use. Plus, I will show you a helpful trick to use when deciding which of these words to use in your own writing.

When to Use Fish

fish versus fishes What does fish mean? Fish can be either a noun or a verb.

As a noun, it refers to a group of aquatic vertebrate animals that use gills to breathe. Fish can be found in most bodies of water. Some are eaten, and some are kept as pets.

Fish can function as both a singular and plural noun. A popular example would be the well-known children’s book One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. It also refers to fish as a food item, without regard to the amount of fish being consumed.

See the sentences below for examples of fish used as a noun.

  • Adelle saw a group of fish swimming in the pond.
  • Robert has a pet fish named Claire.
  • Let’s eat fish for dinner.
  • Tens of thousands of dead fish have closed Montana’s Yellowstone River and stirred new worries Monday about lasting impacts to the region’s lucrative outdoors industry. –The Washington Post

As a plural noun, fish is actually the newer term, but, according to the OED, it has been in use since at least 1300, and is now the more common plural form.

As a verb, to fish is to capture aquatic animals through any of several methods. Fishing is a popular pastime, an important industry, and in some parts of the world, a way of life.

Here are some examples,

  • Today, I will go to the river and fish for trout.
  • Some say that rainy days are the best days to fish.

When to Use Fishes

Definition of fishes definition and definition of fish definitionFishes can also be a noun or a verb.

As a noun, it is an alternate plural of fish. Although fishes is the older of the two plural forms, its use today is rare and idiomatic, as in the following phrases:

  • Jesus fed the crowd with five loaves and two fishes.
  • “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes,” Sal said.

It is also sometimes used when referring to more than one species of fish.

For example,

  • Perch and bass are two fishes hunted for sport in the American Midwest.
  • Fortunately, perceptions of these ancient fishes are slowly changing, as new research and renewed interest from anglers are garnering a more positive image of these misunderstood fishes. –National Geographic

As a verb, it is the third-person present tense of to fish, as in the following sentence:

  • Jermaine fishes for salmon, and shares it with his family.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define fishes and define fishHere is a helpful trick to remember fishes vs. fish.

Using fish as a verb is fairly straightforward, but the same cannot be said of its use as a plural noun.

Unless you are using a specific idiom like those mentioned above, choose fish for most contexts, singular or plural. Fish is the most widely used plural form of the word in English today.

You can remember which word to use by reminding yourself that “fish is salty.” You would not use the phrase “fishes is salty,” so you should not choose fishes for general use.

Summary

Is it fish or fishes? Fish and fishes can both be used as either a verb or a plural noun. To fish is to capture aquatic animals, and as plural nouns, fish and fishes refer to more than one such animal.

You can use the phrase “fish is good” to remind yourself that fish should be used in most situations. If you still have trouble remembering when to use fishes or fish, you can check this article for extra help.