When a fish is being still in one spot, it definitely isn't floating or hovering. Poised? Suspended? "She made out a school of tiny fish ____ in a patch of filtered sunlight".

  • 4
    I like "suspended". Maybe "drifting" could work?
    – James
    Jun 29 '15 at 12:27
  • Not an answer, but unless the fish being perfectly still is important, you could always omit the verb. She made out a school of tiny fish in a patch of filtered sunlight. sounds fine to me.
    – Huey
    Jun 29 '15 at 12:42
  • 1
    I think I've occasionally heard "suspended".
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 29 '15 at 12:55
  • I like suspended, or, related, hovering.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 29 '15 at 12:55
  • Are they actively swimming to stay in the sun patch, or is the water still as well?
    – jxh
    Jun 29 '15 at 17:27

Any of the following words would do:

Unmoving (quite poetic)







Why not hovering?

  1. to float in the air without moving in any direction

  2. to stay very close to a person or place

  3. to stay near a specified point or level


It seems to capture both stillness but also the fine flutters and oscillations you see when you spot a group of minnows just hanging out. Plus, it brings to mind motion through air, which, when talking about fish, is an imaginative touch.

or Wavering, maybe with a modifier? (barely wavering? hardly wavering?)

to sway to and fro, to tremble

Other suggestions:

blinking, quivering, winking, glimmering


I think floating immobile may describe the scene:

  • Buoyed on or suspended in or as if in a fluid. (AHD)

Standstill is used in this context.

And very, very rarely, even swimstill. I think it's a neologism, but it's a good one.

  • Is standstill also an adjective?
    – user66974
    Jun 29 '15 at 13:35
  • @Josh61: Not according to dictionaries. But we do have compounds like standstill agreement
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 29 '15 at 13:41
  • Yes, I was just wondering if the sentence "they were just standstill" is grammatical. Interesting finding, though!
    – user66974
    Jun 29 '15 at 13:43
  • In this context, "swimstill" would be too clever and cute for its own good, imho.
    – kirk
    Jun 29 '15 at 17:45

I can't come up with a word that is specific to aquatic life, but here's a couple suggestions:

frozen, lingering

"Frozen" is more neutral as far as imputing meaning to the fishes' activity, and it's also alliterative ;)


You could say that the fish are resting when they are not swimming.

For a bit of whimsical irony, you could say:

She made out a school of tiny fish bathing in a patch of filtered sunlight.

  • 1
    But if there's a current, the fish needs to do work to stay stationary. Jun 29 '15 at 17:11
  • @PeterShor: I would call that treading water.
    – jxh
    Jun 29 '15 at 19:32
  • How can a fish tread water when it has no feet. :-) Jun 30 '15 at 13:36
  • @PeterShor: Fine, idiomatically treading water. :-)
    – jxh
    Jul 1 '15 at 15:23


11) to come to a stop, usually temporarily; cease from operation for a time.
14) to be suspended, as in a liquid, gas, etc.

from Dictionary.com

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