Person, people, persons, or peoples?

Ask the wise old owl

Wise Old Owl

Person, persons, people or peoples?

This is a question that came up in my Facebook group.

Let’s start with the easier words first. There is one person in the waiting room. The plural of person is people, so there are twelve people in the waiting room. You can also use “people” if you don’t know the number – there were a lot of people at the bus stop.

In the same way that you have one child, but two or more children, you have one person, but two or more people.

The word “persons” does exist too, but it is not used when we are talking about a group of people.
Any person or persons found in possession of illegal substances will be prosecuted.
These parking spaces have been reserved for persons with disabilities.

So here, the word “persons” is used in the same way that we might use the word “individuals”. It’s more than one person, but not a group of people.

There are twelve persons in the waiting room would sound strange.

Persons is used in some legal terms or set phrases like displaced persons or missing persons.

“Peoples” is a word, but often learners use it just because they are talking about more than one, and this is incorrect. In the same way that the plural of man is men, the plural of person is people, so you don’t need to add an s to show that it’s plural.

The word “peoples” does exist, but we use it when we are talking about different groups of people in a nation or the world.
Peoples of the world should work together more – which is like saying the nations of the world, rather than just all of the people.

The peoples of Europe include Germans, Austrians and Greeks. They are individual nations, but they are all part of something bigger, which in this case is Europe.

“Persons” and “peoples” are less commonly used.

More articles in this series

If you want to read the rest of the articles in this series, go to the wise old owl’s main page.

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Author: Kirsty Wolf

I am an English teacher and a language enthusiast who also speaks German and Romanian. I help motivated professionals to improve their English so that they can communicate confidently and authentically.

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