Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Something is Fishy

Dear Mrs Church

I have two questions.  I have a nightmare student.  This student continually insists that he is correct and I am wrong.  I am not a native speaker of English but I believe that I am right this time.  Please help me.  My nightmare student recently used an expression “The little fishes don’t swim far from the father”.   I understood what he was trying to say – something similar to “like father, like son(s)” I am sure that this is not an idiom in English.   My student swears that it is.  I think he is trying to translate a Portuguese idiom into English: “Fiho de peixe, peixinho e” Secondly, what is the plural of “fish”?  Isn’t it “fish”?  My student says that the English bible uses “fishes”.

J in Maringa

Gentle Reader

First, Ms. Church believes you are correct and your student is trying to fit a Portuguese idiom into English.  In English, there are some idioms similar to “like father, like son”, for example” “The fruit (apple) doesn’t fall far from the tree”.  However, Ms. Church has never heard of one including baby fish swimming near their father.  Students will, of course, at some point encounter English idioms.  Becoming familiar with them will become useful.  However, Ms. Church believes that similar to slang, students should take care when using them themselves. 

Generally, “fish” has an irregular plural form: “fish”.  Other animals that are used for food or hunted follow the same rule: “deer”, “moose” and “sheep” are some that come to Ms. Church’s mind.  Ms. Church believes that most L1 speakers of English usually use this form.  However, if you look in the dictionary (Ms. Church uses Longman), you will find “fishes” as being possible.  Also, there are indeed "fishes" in the (King James) Bible: And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven …
However, Ms. Church leaves it up to you, as to whether the Bible should be the bible for English grammar and usage.

By the way dear, I prefer “Ms” as opposed to “Mrs”.

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