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I saw a video clip with the concept of a plural of plurals. Here is an example:

In the ocean there are many fish.  

I saw 3 different kinds of fishes.

First, is this correct usage?

If so, could I do the same kind of thing with "deer"? (I saw three different kinds of deers.)

Lastly, are there other correct ways to use "fishes" (or "deers") besides when saying "kinds of ...."?

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    Kinda answered by "There are fish of every hue." For different kinds of fish, should fish be in plural form here?. It would be helpful to look at those answers and edit your question so that it's not asking for the same thing.
    – Laurel
    Dec 6, 2023 at 3:02
  • Google: names of animals that do not take an s.
    – Lambie
    Dec 6, 2023 at 5:19
  • Probably best to avoid the plural. It could potentially be argued that pluralizing fish as fishes could help ambiguity in some cases where the word fish is mentioned many times in formal writing, but I imagine it would just be better to reword the sentence. And in spoken English, it would come off as being a mistake a child or English learner might make. On the other hand, I do believe "breads" is more acceptable as the plural of bread, while still not common.
    – Kimbi
    Dec 6, 2023 at 6:23

2 Answers 2

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English grammar has no systematic category for "plural of plural" words. Fishes is a special, anomalous case, and it's optional, not mandatory, to use it in that context.

Historically, fishes did not originate as a plural of a plural. In formation, it's just an ordinary plural. The Old English source of fish is fisc, which had the plural fiscas. Eventually, there came to be a trend for animal words in English to have invariable plurals. This resulted in fish having two alternative plural forms, fishes and fish. And since fishes looks 'more plural', it seems like a lot of people feel like it must be the better form to use when talking about types of fish. But you can also just use the regular plural fish, even if you're talking about different species of fish.

And on the other hand, fishes, although the less common plural form, is not strictly limited to cases where you are talking about different kinds: the King James Bible (which of course is not always modern in usage) has examples like "We have here but five loaves, and two fishes". I don't advise imitating this wording; I only cite this as evidence that the form fishes is not fundamentally restricted to being used as a "plural of plural".

Deer has a somewhat different history. It comes from Old English deor, plural deor. Some alternative plurals developed in its history (the Oxford English Dictionary mentions "Middle English deore, deoran, Middle English deoren; Middle English deores, dueres, 1600s–1800s occasionally deers") but I don't think any was ever well established in standard modern English. Don't say "I saw three different kinds of deers."

Here are Google Ngram Viewer results for "types of":

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The plural of fish is usually fish. With the exception, when referring to more than one species of fish, you can use fishes as the plural. Yet, the OED does not recognize a unique sense of fish, “species of fish” to be plural “fishes”.

I would ward off from the plural “fishes” as there isn’t strong enough evidence to solidify its correctness.

  • I saw 3 different kinds of fish.
  • A school of fish.

The deer plural is also deer. Although, rare; we do see many text stating “deers” as a plural regardless of species of deer. Found in ‘Hogg's Tales and Sketches’(1817), among many others. Yet, this too, I would ward off from using as the OED doesn’t support it.

(Source: OED, s.v. "fish" n.1 and "deer" n.)

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  • However, note that there’s a book titled Watching Fishes: Life and Behavior on Coral Reefs Hardcover – January 1, 1985 by Roberta Wilson (Author), James Q. Wilson (Author). There are also books titled Watching Fish.
    – Xanne
    Dec 6, 2023 at 8:06
  • Precisely, that’s a great find! Honestly these words did exist in all correctness at a time but through time English changed with it. I believe that transitions may have happened in 895 (don’t quote me on the year). Words are made everyday, in fact Stanford college announced their word of the year to be “Rizz”. The way we speak isn’t meant to contained in a box. So make new words, express yourselves, and be open minded. Dec 6, 2023 at 19:52

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