Fish or fishes?

November 01, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Having been back to the local supermarket (under the roosting peregrines) to pick up yet more fish (it is one food at present I can't do without it seems), a series of fishy thoughts entered my dancing cranium.

Are we looking at fishes or fish on a fish(es) counter?


If one haddock is a fish – what then, are two?

Are they haddocks?

Because you have more than one, do you now have two fishes (or two fish)?


During my A level biology lessons and then zoology lectures at university, I was always told that the plural of one type (species) of fish (like a haddock) for example is the same as the singular (fish), whereas the plural of more than one type (species) of fish is actually fishes.

Of course I didn’t believe my learned superiors at the time (no change there then…. I can hear my parents sighing) and remember clearly heading to the zoology library at university to hunt down books which would prove them wrong – the plural of fish isn’t fishes is it – it’s fish!


No real surprise then when in every piece of zoological literature I could find, my lecturers were indeed proven to be very correct indeed (at least from a zoological terminology perspective).



I have one fish. I have one haddock.

I have two fish. I have two haddock.*


I have one fish. I have one haddock.

I have two fishes. I have one haddock and one herring.


What about a “fish counter” then?

Unless your fishmonger just sells haddock (or herring perhaps), there will almost certainly be more than one species of fish in his icy display – so should we then call this a “fishes counter”?


No. Not really. Not unless you are bordering on the clinically insane in terms of pure, unadulterated (and incorrect as it happens) pedantry.


Common parlance would have this as a “fish counter” as we are treating the word “fish” as we would “meat” for example, or “fruit”.


“I say old bean, you’ve bought rather a lot of ‘meat’ from the butcher this morning”

(rather than)

“I say old chap, you’ve bought rather a lot of ‘fruits’ from the greengrocer this morning”



NB. I’ve briefly mentioned greengrocer, but dinna fash yersels, I won’t even begin to write about the famous greengrocers’ apostrophes (or plurals) here. (carrot’s  50p/lb anyone?)




While we’re on the subject of retailers –












When we shop at Asda or Morrisons or Waitrose, or Aldi or  “The Co-op” or Iceland or Lidl … we go to Asda or Morrisons or Waitrose or Aldi or “The Co-op” or  Iceland or Lidl.

We don’t (you’ll correct me if I’m wrong) go to Asda’s or Morrisonses or Waitroses or Aldi’s or  “The Co-op’s” or Iceland’s or Lidl’s.


So why then, when we shop at Tesco or J.Sainsbury, do we push our sticky-wheeled trollies ‘round “Tesco’s” or “Sainsbury’s”?


Sainsbury’s I can just about understand – as the parent company is J.Sainsbury PLC with one of its subsidiaries being “Sainsbury’s supermarkets ltd” but I have no idea why we refer to “Tesco” as “Tesco’s”.

We don’t refer to “Esso” as “Esso’s” for example, or “Costco” as “Costco’s” (for any Americans reading this). Or do we? Do you?

Maybe it’s just me being borderline spectrum material but I will never go to Tesco’s – I’ll go to Tesco instead.




Where were we?


Ah yes…. fish. (Or fush for anyone north of the border).


You’ll have noted I’ve placed a large asterisk next to the word “haddock” above, when I refer to two haddock being two haddock  (rather then two haddocks for example).


It would seem that in the case of an awful lot of  fishes (or bony fishes anyway) the plural of a type of fish is the same as the singular –

For example –

Cod, haddock, trout, salmon, monkfish, mackerel all don’t tend to change when we refer to them as plurals.

I’ll have four trout and three mackerel (rather than I’ll have four trouts and three mackerels).


But there are quite a few fishes where plurals are more obvious – and these often (for some inexplicable reason, at least to me), come from fishes with cartilaginous skeletons – such as rays, skates, sharks.


“I’ll have two skates please, meester feeshmonger” (rather than “I’ll have two skate…” – whereupon the fishmonger may well hand you a pair of jackons and say “well I’m not stopping you”).



It’s a veritable fishy linguistic minefield out there grapple fans.

Stay cool.



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