When would you use fishes instead of fish? The same goes for fruits and any other word where a different plural form exists but the singular is most commonly used for plural. I am looking for a sentence where the singular form would be wrong and the explicit plural form must be used instead.

The following pages do not answer my question:

Irregular plurality situations in English

When is it correct to not use the irregular form for a plural? e.g. mouses vs. mice (fish & fishes)

  • 1
    How many sentences with fishes do you know? Name just one and chances are you've got your answer. Like, try saying "if wishes were fish" and be done.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 13:00
  • 3
    This might be better asked over at English Language Learners, but I can give you some high-level indications here. First, the situation you describe only happens with nouns that have a mass noun (uncountable) form. There is 1 fish, but there are also 2 fish, and 3 fish... there is 1 sheep, but there are 2 sheep, 3 sheep, etc. We tend to pluralize these types of words rarely, but when we do it is to highlight or emphasize different kinds or categories: "The Carribean sea is full of many fishes, of all different colors, kinds, and species."; "The waters of the Atlantic and Pacific meet in ..".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 13:02
  • Wikipedia states: As a general rule, game or other animals are often referred to in the singular for the plural in a sporting context: "He shot six brace of pheasant", "Carruthers bagged a dozen tiger last year", whereas in another context such as zoology or tourism the regular plural would be used. [But *?London zoo has six tiger.] // Can you give an example of a plural (not mass) usage of fruit? (eg ... 3 fruit ...) Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 13:59
  • 2
    @DanBron A regular plural is just one where there's an 's' on the end - unlike fish which can be plural just as it stands: I have three fish. Fish isn't a mass noun there it's just an unusual plural form which happens to be identical to the singular :) Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 15:47
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth Thanks for editing the title! Unfortunately, I don't understand it any more! It seems to be saying that I'm looking for a sentence where you can't use "fishes" whereas I'm looking for a sentence where you must say "fishes" and not "fish".
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 15:53

3 Answers 3


"Trout, greyling, and char are technically all salmons."
"Squids is a video game."
"Many fishes and snakes move by contracting muscles in waves down the body, which bends the body to each side."


There are times, particularly in "legalese", where you will see the use of persons instead of people. I don't claim to know why. If you need illustrations, I'm sure I can find some in short order.

  • 2
    This is kind of a non-answer answer. In other words, it might be better converted to a comment.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 15:42
  • Because legalese is archaic. Etymologically, person and people come from different roots. They just happen to have formed a suppletive paradigm.
    – Anonym
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 23:12
  • For legal purposes, corporations can be persons, but not people. Commented May 9, 2015 at 22:52

If you are talking about different varieties of the thing, use the inflected plural form.

The aquarium houses many kinds of fishes.

I tasted several new tropical fruits.

In all other cases, stick with the uninflected form of the noun:

You should eat lots of fruit/fish

EDIT: I remember reading about this in an Oxford dictionary (printed). I found this online resource to corroborate my answer.

  • 2
    No. This is not contrasting plural-form plural nouns with singular-form plural nouns, but plural-form plural nouns with mass usages. You can't eat 3 fruit, and 'eat lots of fish' is like 'drink lots of water' Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 13:45
  • @EdwinAshworth: Not sure what your objection is. You can't eat 3 fruit, just like you can't move 3 furniture. You eat 3 pieces of fruit and move 3 pieces of furniture. But if you eat 3 fruits, they can't all be apples. You're talking about different kinds. Yes, 'eat lots of fish' is like 'drink lots of water', but what's your point? I could say it's not like 'eat lots of vegetables'.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 20:05
  • 2
    Your source has the incorrect 'The word Fruit is a noun. The word is an exception where the noun is both countable and uncountable. So the plural of Fruit can be either Fruit OR Fruits.' Uncountable nouns (more accurately, nouns not being used in count senses) don't 'have plurals'. Patiences? 'Fish' can be uncountable (I eat lots of fish), singular count (What a big fish!) or plural count (There are seven fish in this pond). OP is asking whether the plural sense of 'fish' and the other plural 'fishes' are always interchangeable. Similarly for other such pairs (salmon / salmons etc). Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 20:56
  • 1
    However, both fish and fruit more commonly appear as noncount nouns, which do not have plurals [and arguably do not have singulars, though they are usually identical in form to the corresponding singular count noun]. For example, you would say: I had a little fish and a salad for dinner. He eats a lot of meat, but he doesn't eat much fish. Fruit is very good for you, and vegetables are too. There isn't much fresh fruit available at this time of year. Commented Apr 9, 2015 at 21:30
  • 2
    "The aquarium houses many kinds of fish" is perfectly acceptable. As is "I tasted several new kinds of tropical fruit". Commented May 9, 2015 at 22:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.