Why are there no “fishes” in English?

Because, etymologically, individuality among fish was not especially valued.

First, there are, indeed, “fishes” in English. The distinction - which most English-speakers aren’t familiar with - is that “fishes” refers specifically to multiple species of fish, whereas “fish” on its own just means “fish”, singular or plural, in general. One that people are familiar with is “cheeses” (several kinds) vs. “cheese” (generic plural). It also holds true for “fruit”, “bread”, “spice”, and several other foods.

There is a two-part rule for words with the same singular and plural forms:

  1. they are typically found in groups
  2. thinking of them in terms of individuals isn’t, or historically wasn’t, important

“Fish” is an obvious one:

  1. they typically appear in flocks
  2. since they live in herds, and are only directly important to humans as food, we never needed to think of them as individuals

Accordingly, their singular and plural forms are the same. This goes for foods (there’s another one!) as well: cheese, fruit, bread, and spice are typically in barrels, ears, bushels, piles, etc., so their individuality need not be regarded as too important.

Lots of other animals fit in the same category: sheep are meat - and wool-bearing animals, so they’re thought of in terms of schools of sheep without regard to the singular sheep; shrimp, too, float along, are caught, and are consumed in gaggles. Accordingly, their singular and plural forms are the same.

Other examples include:

  • Elk, which migrate and are hunted in swarms; their individuality is unimportant enough that there is no such thing as “elks”.
  • Moose, distantly related to elk, fulfill a similar role in North America; hence, you have a kaleidoscope of moose, not of “meese”.
  • Swine, since supplanted by “pigs”, are like sheep: the pride of swine was more important than a swine by itself.
  • Salmon, as fish, are found and caught in flocks, so you hear people refer to “a murder of salmon”, not a murder of “salmons”.

(This last point applies to many fishes: halibut, cod, bass, trout, carp, pike, and perch are all the same in singular and plural.)

This information was taken from Quora. Click here to view the original post.

Was this information interesting? What are your thoughts on the topic?

#Society #language #Quora


What are your thoughts on this subject?
Wyla Reedy
Didn't know there were that many murders.
Nov 16, 2020 4:54PM
beth nicol
Did your fact checkers check this before it was published? I rather doubt it.
Sep 10, 2020 7:27PM
Andrew King
A swarm of elk, FFS,
Apr 26, 2020 5:13PM
Andrew King
What a lot of crap, painful reading
Apr 26, 2020 5:12PM
Andrew King
Painful reading wasn’t it Joan Scott-Lange,
Apr 26, 2020 5:10PM
Still, the plural for goose is geese. So why not meese for moose. And the plurals of mouse and louse are mice and lice, why isn't the plural of house hice and grouse grice? I'm so glad English is my native language and I didn't have to learn it from scratch.
Feb 4, 2020 4:44PM
Micki Horton
Very interesting and informative.
Dec 29, 2019 12:09AM
Bob Pam Hanna
Can't say much except, I believe in the difference, "ifen" you know what I mean!!
Aug 6, 2019 1:22PM
Gerald Goltz
It is always interesting to read what some one has to say about the English language especially when too often they need to learn a great deal more themselves. All languages have idiosyncrasies.
Jul 6, 2019 5:36PM
Rod Peel
Schools of Sheep????? They always went around in flocks when I was younger, perhaps they have become educated but I doubt it!
Jun 8, 2019 6:48PM
Interesting. Thank you.
Mar 31, 2019 11:18PM
Simon Morris
The writer deliberately made a Pig’s Ear of his collective nouns.
Mar 31, 2019 6:08PM
Sherry Radman
June Abramowitz, looks like they got their script back to front as further down they mention schools of sheep.
Mar 16, 2019 5:02PM
Nancy Gardner
Good one.
Mar 12, 2019 4:28PM
Humberto Carrasco
Mar 7, 2019 5:15PM

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