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Recently, I've passed through a phrase "a fish" in several serious contemporary books on international politics. Is "fish" coming to be used as countable?

closed as unclear what you're asking by tchrist, choster, anongoodnurse, Chenmunka, Avon Aug 2 '15 at 20:08

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    Fish has always been countable ("I caught a fish"), although it can also be employed as an uncountable ("I had fish for dinner"). You are probably confused by the fact that it has the same form in singular and plural ("I caught three fish yesterday"), except occasionally when you are referring to different varieties of fish. – StoneyB Jul 29 '15 at 1:54
  • Also, of course, "fish" can be used as a verb. – Hot Licks Jul 29 '15 at 2:05
  • (By the way, it's "phrase".) – Hot Licks Jul 29 '15 at 2:06
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    @Blowflute We need a couple of examples from the contemporary books on international politics. I'm having trouble imagining how fish fit into international politics in a way that's got you wondering about countability. – aparente001 Jul 29 '15 at 2:37
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Fish is countable when referring to an animal.

It is uncountable when referring to food as a substance.

This is not a recent development.

As a countable noun, its plural form is irregular: it can be fish or fishes.

Since we commonly treat fish as food as uncountable, we often say, for example, I had some fish for dinner, even if we ate one fish. That may help explain why you may have concluded that it was always uncountable.

Learner's dictionaries and some other dictionaries give information on the countability of nouns. See, for example, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/learner-english/fish_1?q=Fish.

  • Note: It is fish when referring to multiple fish of the same kind, and fishes when referring to multiple kinds of fish. – Omry Jul 29 '15 at 6:10
  • @Omry: That's an over-simplification. "If wishes were fishes..." doesn't mean "If wishes were different fish species." – sumelic Aug 21 '17 at 14:16
  • @sumelic Idioms will be idioms. I'm regarding the usage of the word, not of the idiom. – Omry Aug 21 '17 at 14:20
  • @Omry: "Fishes" is also used in e.g. the King James Bible: "And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all." In origin, it is just the plural of the singular noun "fish". It's not in common use nowadays and people who use it do often restrict the use to the circumstances you mention, but not always. – sumelic Aug 21 '17 at 14:32

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