Fish Vocabulary: Idioms & More

Fish Vocabulary: Idioms & More

The bigger the river the bigger the fish.

Portuguese Proverb

Fish* are fascinating creatures. There are approximately 32,000 different kinds of fish in the world today, and some are truly unique. For example, electric eels and electric rays have enough electricity to kill a horse, the sailfish can swim as fast as a car travels on the highway, and anableps can see above and below water at the same time (source). This post will teach you useful English words and expressions, boosting your fish vocabulary greatly…


Fish is a countable noun when it means a creature that lives in water and has a tail and fins. The form fish is usually used for the plural, but fishes can also be used:

The fish were counted and an average weight recorded.

Those fishes that you see right now are new species.

Fish is an uncountable noun when it means the flesh of a fish eaten as food:

Does dry white wine go best with fish? (fishes)


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  1. a seagull /ˈsiːˌɡʌl/
  2. a dolphin
  3. a swordfish /ˈsɔː(r)dˌfɪʃ/
  4. gills /ɡɪls/
  5. a fin
  6. scales
  7. a killer whale/an orca /ˈɔ(r)kə/
  8. a turtle
  9. seaweed
  10. a tuna
  11. a jellyfish
  12. a shark
  13. a (scuba) diver
  14. a sea horse
  15. a bass /bæs/
  16. a cod
  17. an octopus
  18. an eel
  19. a squid
  20. a stingray
  21. a shrimp
  22. a sea urchin /ˈɜː(r)tʃɪn/
  23. an angelfish
  24. a crab
  25. a sea anemone /əˈneməni/
  26. a coral reef
  27. a mussel /ˈmʌs(ə)l/
  28. a starfish
  29. a sponge
  30. a halibut /ˈhælɪbət/


  • a fish out of water – someone who is in a situation that they know nothing about or are not used to: 1) I’m a fish out of water and I’ve never felt it more than today. 2) You look like a fish out of water. Why?
  • a big fish in a small pond – someone who is important or powerful only because there are not many other people competing with them: 1) You were a big fish in a small pond, but this here is the ocean and you’re drowning. 2) Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?
  • a cold fish – someone who is not friendly: 1) He’s a cold fish, and I wouldn’t rely on his help. 2) When did you become such a cold fish?
  • there are plenty more fish in the sea – used for telling someone whose boyfriend or girlfriend has left them that they will soon have another relationship: 1) Don’t cry over her. There are plenty more fish in the sea. 2) I know you are broken up about Janet leaving you, but there are other fish in the sea.
  • to drink like a fish – to drink a lot of alcohol regularly: 1) If you keep drinking like a fish, you’ll end up in hospital. 2) He smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish. (Related: “Similes“)
  • neither fish nor fowl /faʊl– used for saying that you do not know what something is: 1) The picture was neither fish nor fowl, but I still liked it. 2) Graduate teaching assistants are neither fish nor fowl, neither students nor teachers.
  • to fish in troubled waters – to win an advantage from someone’s difficult situation: 1) He often buys up stock in companies declaring bankruptcy, fishing in troubled waters. 2) We must be careful not to appear to be fishing in troubled waters.
  • to have other/bigger fish to fry – to have more important things to do or think about: 1) I can’t deal with this right now, I’ve got other fish to fry! 2) Susie did bring me the latest report, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry at the moment.
  • packed to the gills – as full as possible: 1) The room was packed to the gills. 2) Her mind was packed to the gills with ideas for her new book.
  • to jump the shark – to stop being very popular and well-known, and start to become much less popular: 1) The majority of television has jumped the shark; few shows maintain their creative ingenuity. 2) Jumping the shark is especially applicable to television series or other entertainment outlets.
  • loan shark – a moneylender who charges extremely high rates of interest, typically under illegal conditions: 1) Tammy had no way to pay the loan shark. 2) Loan sharks target those with bad debt records because they may have difficulty getting loans from the usual sources.
This is a totally different kettle of fish!
  • to be a different/another kettle of fish – be completely different from something or someone else that has been talked about: 1) Having knowledge is one thing but being able to communicate it to others is another kettle of fish. 2) Of course their economic policy is a different kettle of fish altogether. (A kettle is a metal container, usually with a cover, used for cooking)

Do you have any questions? Feel free to ask them below. We’ll be happy to answer! 😊

Materials used: “The Heinle Picture Dictionary”

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