The Grammarphobia Blog

Is the band Phish singular or plural?

Q: I have a question about band names. Which is correct: “Phish is from Burlington” or “Phish are from Burlington”?

A: If the name of a band is inherently plural (like “the Doors” or “the Beatles”), then treat it as plural and use a plural verb (“are”).

If the band’s name is inherently singular (say, “Snow Patrol” or “Radiohead”), then treat it as singular and use a singular verb (“is”).

The name “Phish” (like “fish”) could be construed as either singular or plural. We’d come down on the side of the singular (“is”). 

In fact, that’s how the band treats itself on its website, as in this March 15, 2010, news item: “Phish Performs At 2010 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.”

The band, formed in 1983 at the University of Vermont, was first called Blackwood Convention (a reference to the bidding term in bridge), but it soon began performing as Phish.

Why Phish? There are lots of explanations, but the one heard most often is that the name refers to the band’s drummer, John Fishman, commonly known as Fish.

If you’d like to read more about band names, we wrote a blog post a while back on this subject.

In American English, by the way, a collective noun like “band” is construed as singular. The Brits, on the other hand, treat collective nouns as plural.

If you’re still game, we wrote a blog item some time ago about differences between US and UK English.

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