People vs. Persons - The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation (2023)

The noun person has two plurals: persons and people. Most people don’t use persons, but the sticklers say there are times when we should. “When we say persons,” says Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage, “we are thinking, or ought to be, of ones—individuals with identities; whereas when we say people we should mean a large group, an indefinite and anonymous mass.”

The traditional rule is that persons is used for either an exact or a small number. So we might estimate that a hundred people were there. Or if we know the exact number, we’d say ninety-eight persons were there.

As for “a small number,” how small is “small”? In Words on Words, John B. Bremner suggests fewer than fifty. Theodore M. Bernstein concurs, saying in The Careful Writer that fifty people is acceptable. To Bernstein, two people is nearly unthinkable but 4,381 persons is “quite proper.”

Meanwhile, the language moves on. In A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, Bryan A. Garner calls the persons-people distinction “pedantic.” Garner says that twelve persons on the jury “sounds stuffy” and that most Americans today would say people instead. Roy H. Copperud agrees. In A Dictionary of Usage and Style he dismisses the grammatical superiority of persons as “superstition,” a law that “usage has in fact repealed.”

Because persons sounds aloof and clinical, the word still thrives in legal, official, or formal usage. A hotel chain’s website offers “options for three and more persons.” Elevators carry signs saying, “Occupancy by more than eight persons is unlawful.” The Department of Justice has a database called the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

A more timely debate these days would be people vs. folks. Traditionalists regard folks with suspicion and contempt. Bernstein says, “Folks is a casualism … not suitable for general straightforward writing.” Bremner calls it “deliberately folksy” and “corny in formal speech and writing.” But judging by its growing popularity and acceptance in this informal age, folks will probably be synonymous with people in another ten years.


If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

29 responses to “People vs. Persons

  1. Wilford L. says:

    August 17, 2014, at 3:04 pm

    In the South, you is singular and y’all is plural. If there is one person, we say, “You come back to see us.” If there are two to six persons we say, “Y’all come back to see us.” For more than six people, we say, “All y’all come back to see us.”

    • says:

      August 17, 2014, at 3:06 pm

      That is interesting. We have spent some time in the South, and we are familiar with the Southern dialect you speak of. Thanks for writing.

      • Anne Victory says:

        June 12, 2016, at 10:15 pm

        So far as I know, there is no numerical “rule” of when to use “y’all” vs. “all y’all.” Yes, you is singular and y’all is plural, but all y’all is meant to include an entire group, whereas y’all would be a portion (assuming a large group.” There are few instances where you’d use “all y’all,” but I suppose one would be if you’re at a meeting of say ten people and you’re talking to two friends. If you said, “Are y’all going to the Christmas party?” that would mean the two people you’re talking to. “Are all y’all going to the Christmas party” would mean the entire group.

        Meanwhile… I’m still trying to decide on people vs. persons.

  2. V says:

    November 8, 2014, at 1:42 pm

    I was searching for an answer to whether signs “say” things. I can’t find even a debate on the subject.

    Example sentence: “Several people in the baggage claim area are holdings signs saying ‘Smith Family’ or ‘Harrington.'”

    Is that sentence perfectly fine as it is, or should it be rewritten so that the signs are not speaking?

    (Video) First person vs. Second person vs. Third person - Rebekah Bergman

    • says:

      November 10, 2014, at 5:49 pm

      We know of no rules covering this area, and the use of the word say in that context seems fairly common. However, since Merriam-Webster’s Learners Dictionary includes this definition of the word read: “to show (words) for someone to read,” the sentence could be written as:
      Several people in the baggage claim area are holding signs that read “Smith Family” or “Harrington.”

      • Bill Ziese says:

        March 28, 2015, at 3:22 pm

        I believe a sign “saying” or “reading” implies it a living thing capable of saying or reading. I always use a sign “states” something. While a living person can state or make a statement, a sign can state or make a statement.

        • says:

          April 5, 2015, at 5:32 am

          There is no rule that applies to this issue.

      • Grier says:

        August 17, 2015, at 2:16 pm

        Would “Shoplifting can leave a person with a record and affect their life” not be correct, though, given the new ways to address gender? “His or her” gives limited gender options. I also wonder, though, if this is not a grammatical argument but a political one. Thoughts?

        • says:

          August 20, 2015, at 10:02 am

          Many traditionalists continue to feel that the plural pronoun their is not grammatically correct when it refers to a singular noun, in this case “person.” (Also see our recent post “Singular They Part II.”) We prefer to reword the sentence to “Shoplifting can leave people with records and affect their lives.” The Chicago Manual of Style offers nine techniques for achieving gender neutrality:
          “1. Omit the pronoun: the programmer should update the records when data is transferred to her by the head office becomes the programmer should update the records when data is transferred by the head office.
          2. Repeat the noun: a writer should be careful not to needlessly antagonize readers, because her credibility will suffer becomes a writer should be careful not to needlessly antagonize readers, because the writer’s credibility will suffer.
          3. Use a plural antecedent: a contestant must conduct himself with dignity at all times becomes contestants must conduct themselves with dignity at all times.
          4. Use an article instead of a personal pronoun: a student accused of cheating must actively waive his right to have his guidance counselor present becomes a student accused of cheating must actively waive the right to have a guidance counselor present.
          5. Use the neutral singular pronoun one: an actor in New York is likely to earn more than he is in Paducah becomes an actor in New York is likely to earn more than one in Paducah.
          6. Use the relative pronoun who (works best when it replaces a personal pronoun that follows if): employers presume that if an applicant can’t write well, he won’t be a good employee becomes employers presume that an applicant who can’t write well won’t be a good employee.
          7. Use the imperative mood: a lifeguard must keep a close watch over children while he is monitoring the pool becomes keep a close watch over children while monitoring the pool.
          8. Use he or she (sparingly): if a complainant is not satisfied with the board’s decision, then he can ask for a rehearing becomes if a complainant is not satisfied with the board’s decision, then he or she can ask for a rehearing.
          9. Revise the clause: a person who decides not to admit he lied will be considered honest until someone exposes his lie becomes a person who denies lying will be considered honest until the lie is exposed.”

          • Kamilla says:

            February 13, 2017, at 6:49 am

            Amazing explanation. Thank you for that.

  3. Chemuta M. says:

    December 15, 2014, at 10:14 am

    (Video) POINT OF VIEW 🤔| First person, Second person & Third person | Learn with examples | Types of stories

    Speaking of plurals what is the pluralization rule of words like cactus, walrus and platypus. Cactus and platypus can be pluralized like Cacti and platypi but walri is incorrect. Can you help me with this?

    • says:

      December 18, 2014, at 4:59 pm

      Cactuses, platypuses, and walruses are correct plural forms. Cacti and platypi are also acceptable alternative plural forms. Some nouns derived from Latin replace -us with -i to form the plural. The word walrus does not derive from Latin. There are many exceptions, however. When in doubt, your best bet is to look the words up in a dictionary.

  4. Midhael F says:

    December 25, 2014, at 7:59 am

    Many people (an indefinite number) agree that removing all pluralization of nouns in English would relieve a lot of headache. One could say “one person” or “fifty person” and although the syntax would sound irregular, the listener or reader would none the less grasp the meaning.

  5. English Miss says:

    February 9, 2015, at 11:27 pm

    Is this statement correct: shoplifting can leave a person with a record and impact their life.

    My friend said that person is plural and the noun should be pl. Is “person” in this sentence plural?


    • says:

      February 15, 2015, at 6:44 pm

      The noun person is singular, but the pronoun their is plural. Also, as we mention in our blog “The Word Nerd: Six Pitfalls Writers (and Others) Should Avoid,” we recommend that you replace “impact” with “affect”:
      Shoplifting can leave a person with a record and affect his or her life.
      Shoplifting can leave people with records and affect their lives.

  6. Suzie says:

    February 16, 2016, at 4:26 pm

    Why is it taboo to use “it” as the pronoun for a person of unidentified gender? “It” is commonly used when speaking of an animal of unknown gender. I don’t see any insult. I think it is better than confusing by using the plural or writing self conscious reconstructed sentences.

    • says:

      February 17, 2016, at 8:53 pm

      (Video) Learn all the Tenses in English: Complete Course

      The pronoun it implies that the person in question is an object, which is generally considered offensive.

  7. Julie Sabey says:

    June 28, 2016, at 11:18 am

    If I am using the phrase “other people’s identities” should I say rather, “other persons identities”? or “other peoples’ identities” thank you.

    • says:

      July 2, 2016, at 4:27 pm

      The plural form is other people’s identities or other persons’ identities.

    • Karl Kent Lui says:

      October 19, 2017, at 6:33 am

      People can be translated as persons or culture, so we can say peoples referring to persons of different ethnicity.
      People/people’s and people/peoples’ are correct.
      (Excuse any mistake. English is not my native language).

      • says:

        November 30, 2017, at 5:01 pm

        As your resource points out, peoples can be used in exclusive cases where it identifies “groups of people from multiple ethnic, cultural, racial, or national backgrounds.” The possessive would be peoples’. In the majority of references, however, the word people would be used to express a number of persons. As an irregular noun that is already plural, the possessive would be formed by adding ‘s: people’s.

  8. Jim says:

    January 31, 2019, at 4:19 pm

    I wonder if anything can be added to the discussion of using “persons” or “people” by considering the historical and theological implications of the word “person.” An unabridged dictionary will point out that the term can mean a human being not an animal, or a “self,” and even relates to “hypostasis,” one of the three “persons” in the Trinitarian understanding of god. So we have this tradition where “person” suggests importance in a way that I don’t sense from “people.” Today I drafted a letter of recommendation and wrote that the subject was “one of the most honest persons I know.” I struggled with persons vs. people, but it seemed important to refer to the subject as an individual of worth in a way that “one of the most honest people” would not quite have achieved.

    • says:

      February 12, 2019, at 5:12 am

      While the word choice is likely a matter of style and preference, we understand your point that “person” can suggest a greater emphasis on the individual even in a plural context.

      (Video) The Only Grammar Book You'll Ever Need | How to Write Better

  9. Simran says:

    May 13, 2020, at 9:00 pm

    I have doubt that can we use persons as plural form as I used to think persons is not correct word to use if we have people to use as plural form.
    If someone is using persons for small group of people so, would that be consider as correct or not?

    • says:

      May 20, 2020, at 6:49 am

      Use of the word persons to describe a small group of people is a matter of style and preference. As we indicated in the post and in the many comments and responses below it, persons can be correct in certain contexts.

  10. Dasha says:

    April 19, 2021, at 2:01 am

    I was writing “Now there are 16 of us. Next week we are employing 2 more people.” I started doubting the “people” in this situation, and it brought me here. The guy is giving an interview, and he is going to employ 2 more people(?). In this situation, the “people” are not individuals, but they are going to be part of the team, as workforce. I read your article carefully, and I am still not sure what to use in my situation.

    • says:

      April 22, 2021, at 1:09 pm

      Use of the word persons to describe a small group of people is a matter of style and preference. Writing people is fine in your sentences. You may want to review our Rules for Writing Numbers to help you decide when to spell out numbers and when to use numerals.

  11. Waldo says:

    June 9, 2022, at 6:52 pm

    Well, can you say one people for we can certainly say one person?

    • says:

      June 13, 2022, at 1:21 pm

      We would typically not refer to “one people” because “people” is plural, and in being so, it includes more than one person. An exception might be a reference to an entire group in a collective sense, such as “the French are a people with a passion for cuisine.”

Leave a Comment or Question:


Is it correct to say persons? ›

Most of the time, people is the correct word to choose as a plural for person. Persons is archaic, and it is safe to avoid using it, except in legal writing, which has its own traditional language. Peoples is only necessary when you refer to distinct ethnic groups (for example, within the same region).

Is the word people singular or plural? ›

People is the plural of person that's most commonly used in everyday communication to simply refer to multiple humans. But people can also be used as a singular noun to refer to a population or particular community.

Is it correct to say John and me or John and I? ›

You should never use myself and John or John and myself. Both phrases are grammatically incorrect. Instead, use John and me if the speaker is the object of the sentence, and use John and I if the speaker is the subject of the sentence.

What is the difference between people and peoples? ›

The word people means a collective group of human beings belonging to a particular/specific nation, community or ethnicity. The word peoples, on the other hand, means the same as 'people' but it's used to denote groups of people belonging to different communities, ethnicities, religions, nationalities, etc.

Can we say 2 persons? ›

Many usage guides over the years have suggested that there is a clear distinction between these two words; people is used when referring to a collective group or indeterminate number, and persons serves better when referring to individuals (or a number of individuals).

Can we use people in a sentence? ›

[M] [T] Few people live to be one hundred years old. [M] [T] I know quite a few people who don't eat meat. [M] [T] A crowd of people gathered around the speaker. [M] [T] A lot of people are dealing with allergies now.

Is 2 people plural or singular? ›

The second-person pronoun you is used for both the singular and the plural (i.e., whether you're addressing one person or a group). The same goes for the second-person possessive pronoun yours. However, the second-person reflexive pronoun does have two forms, the singular yourself and the plural yourselves.

How many persons are in English grammar? ›

English has three persons (first, second, and third).

What is the plural for people? ›

people (countable and uncountable, plural peoples)

Which is correct Sally and me or Sally and I? ›

The important part of that lesson was being polite, not using good grammar. But you need to know that you should say "Sally and I" ONLY when you need the subject of a sentence or phrase. If the words "Sally and I" are serving as the object of a phrase, then you need to switch to "Sally and me."

Is it correct to say Jane and I or Jane and me? ›

Correct: Jane and I went to the store to get more groceries. Both you and Jane are completing the action here—you are the subjects of the sentence. So, like before, you refer to yourself with "I". Incorrect: Jane and me went to the store to get more groceries.

Which is correct Bob and me or Bob and I? ›

Use "I" when it is the subject of the sentence and use "me" when it is the object of the sentence. The correct statement is "Happy Birthday from Bob and me." The phrase "Bob and me" is the object of the preposition "from" so you should use the object pronoun "me."

Which is correct the people or people? ›

If we put "the" before "people", those people in the list are of a small number, specific and regular members. Otherwise, Generalization will occur by leaving "the". When you say "of this great country", you are not generalizing, you are using SPECIFIC factor, so "the" should be used.

What is a person in English grammar? ›

In grammar, a person is the way of referring to someone taking part in an event, such as the person talking, the person being talked to, the person being talked about. Grammatical persons are accomplished by pronouns, words used to take the place of a noun, in order to make speech easier.

Where do you put the apostrophe in people's? ›

Put the apostrophe after the last letter. The last letter is “e.” So: people's. You can see more applications of this handy rule by clicking here.

Is it right to say many a people? ›

"Many a people have it" is not correct. Actually "many a" takes a singular noun, so you can say "Many a person has tried and failed" or something similar, but not "many a people". It is technically possible to say "many a people" if you mean "a people" as in "a nation".

Why do signs say persons? ›

This term is not used to denote one single individual. It is a Collective Noun. Whereas Person(s) can be used in Singular form or as a Collective Noun and indicates one or more individuals in a small group, like She is a person of integrity or Twenty persons formed the prayer group, etc.

How do you use people person in a sentence? ›

Donna was a people person. She was warm, outgoing, and an excellent listener. Dave tries hard, but he's just not a people person.

What is a simple sentence for people? ›

"We are just ordinary people." "The book is based on the stories of real people." "She has autographs of many famous people." "The politician says he wants to help middle class people."

What is the example of people? ›

People are men, women, and children. People is normally used as the plural of person, instead of 'persons'.

What is 1st person 2nd person 3rd person examples? ›

I, me, my, mine, myself, we, our, ours, ourselves — First person. You, your, yours, yourself — Second person. She, her, hers, herself, he, him, his, himself, they, them, themselves, their, theirs — Third person.

What is 1st person vs 2nd person vs 3rd person? ›

First, second, and third person are ways of describing points of view. First person is the I/we perspective. Second person is the you perspective. Third person is the he/she/it/they perspective.

What is 231 rule in grammar? ›

We should use the personal pronouns in the order of 231 for good results ( I mean, Second Person, Third Person, First Person). The order 123 (First Person, Second Person and Third Person) is also possible when we admit guilt.

What are the 6 verb persons in English? ›

In English, we have six different persons: first person singular (I), second person singular (you), third person singular (he/she/it/one), first person plural (we), second person plural (you), and third person plural (they). We must conjugate a verb for each person.

How do you list people in Grammar? ›

If you are using a list of people including yourself as the subject of a sentence, then use "I" at the end of the list. For example: John, Jane and I went to the shops. If you are using a list of people including yourself as the object of a sentence, then use "me" at the end of the list.

Which person comes first in a sentence? ›

second person (2) + third (3)+ first person(1) in normal sentences. Ex : You, he and I have finished the work. But when mistake or fault is expressed in the sentence,the order should be; first person (1) + second person (2) + third person (3).

Should I use plural verb for people? ›

People is the plural of person. As it is treated as a plural noun it takes the plural of the verb 'to be' (are/were) and the plural of any other type verb. Examples: Many people are going to the concert.

What is the old English word for people? ›

folk (n.) Old English folc "common people, laity; men; people, nation, tribe; multitude; troop, army," from Proto-Germanic *fulka- (source also of Old Saxon folc, Old Frisian folk, Middle Dutch volc, Dutch volk, Old High German folc, German Volk "people").

What is 3 person singular and plural? ›

he, she, one, it is (third-person singular) we are (first-person plural) you are/ye are (second-person plural) they are (third-person plural)

Which is correct Pam and I or Pam and me? ›

Even native English speakers often get this wrong. The very same rules that we have already learned apply. If the people are the subject of the verb, you should use I. If the people are the objects of the verb, me is correct.

Which is correct Betty and I or Betty and me? ›

Betty and I (subject) are going out.” is correct here. “Betty and me are going out.” is incorrect. It is not surprising to us that you have heard incorrect usage on TV.

Which is correct Nancy and me or Nancy and I? ›

Nancy is the subject who is taking you to the park and applying an action on you. “I” is the subject of a sentence, while “me” is the object. Although this seems like such a simple rule, many people tend to overlook it. The corrected version of this sentence would be, “Nancy took Wesley and me to the amusement park.”

What is correct grammar my husband and me or my husband and I? ›

Do you say “my husband and I” or “My husband and me”? It depends on the sentence. “My husband and I” if the phrase is the subject of the sentence; “my husband and me” if it is the object.

Which is correct Jenny and me or Jenny and I? ›

The subject of the verb (the person/people doing the action—who is getting the walk in.) is "Jenny and I/me." (The object of the verb is 'walk. ') So then you should use the subject pronoun 'I': Jenny and I got our walk in this morning.

Is it smarter than I or me? ›

Smarter than me is the most common form in spoken language and also the second most common one in English literature, so it can hardly be considered wrong. Don't be afraid to use it. That's just how the language developed. Smarter than I has been traditionally understood as a short way of saying “smarter than I am”.

What is correct Peter and me or Peter and I? ›

If it is the object of the sentence it should be "Peter and me": Join Peter and me. She gave it to Peter and me. If it is the subject of the sentence, the it will be Peter and I: Peter and I would like to thank you ...

Is it proper English to say me and my? ›

It depends whether the it's a subject or the object. If it is subject, then it's "my friend and I". If it's object then it's "my friend and me".

Which is correct Molly and Me or Molly and I? ›

I is a subject pronoun, while me is an object pronoun, so I is the grammatically correct choice.

Which is correct us people or we people? ›

When choosing between "we" and "us" you need to determine if it is the subject or the object of a verb. "We" is a subject pronoun and is used in subject position. "Us" is an object pronoun and is used in object position.

What are the three levels of person in English? ›

Person is a category used to distinguish between (1) those speaking, (2) those being addressed, and (3) those who are neither speaking nor being addressed (i.e., everybody else). These three categories are called the first person, the second person, and the third person.

Who is called as a person? ›

A person (PL: people) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason, morality, consciousness or self-consciousness, and being a part of a culturally established form of social relations such as kinship, ownership of property, or legal responsibility.

What are the 3 rules for apostrophes? ›

The apostrophe has three uses: 1) to form possessive nouns; 2) to show the omission of letters; and 3) to indicate plurals of letters, numbers, and symbols. ​Do not ​use apostrophes to form possessive ​pronouns ​(i.e. ​his​/​her ​computer) or ​noun ​plurals that are not possessives.

What are the 5 examples of apostrophe? ›

A few apostrophe examples below:
  • I am – I'm: “I'm planning to write a book someday.”
  • You are – You're: “You're going to have a lot of fun with your new puppy.”
  • She is – She's: “She's always on time.”
  • It is – It's: “I can't believe it's snowing again.”
  • Do not – Don't: “I don't like anchovies.”

Do you use an apostrophe when referring to a group of people? ›

An apostrophe can be used to show possession by a plural noun. For a plural group, apostrophe usage occurs when talking about what a family or group of people own. For example, say the brain family is your friends and they own a penthouse. The penthouse is “the Jacobs' penthouse” and not “the Jacob's penthouse”.

Does persons need an apostrophe? ›

When two or more people separately own the same type of thing, you should add an apostrophe after each person's name. If two or more people jointly own something, you should treat them as a single “subject” and you only need one apostrophe.

What are persons in grammar? ›

In grammar, a person is the way of referring to someone taking part in an event, such as the person talking, the person being talked to, the person being talked about. Grammatical persons are accomplished by pronouns, words used to take the place of a noun, in order to make speech easier.

Where is the apostrophe in persons? ›

Using Apostrophes after a Name

We can make use of the apostrophe when referring to a person, writing a name, to indicate possession to that person. However, we can run into the same exceptions. Some names end in 's'. For names that don't end with an 's', we would add an apostrophe and then an 's' afterwards.

What are the 2 rules for apostrophe? ›

Here are the rules of thumb:
  • For most singular nouns, add apostrophe+s:
  • For most plural nouns, add only an apostrophe:
  • For plural nouns that do not end in s, add apostrophe+s:
  • Style guides vary in their recommendations of what to do when you have a singular proper noun that ends in s. ...
  • Others say to add apostrophe+s:
Sep 23, 2022

How many persons are in grammar? ›

Person refers to the relationship that an author has with the text that he or she writes, and with the reader of that text. English has three persons (first, second, and third).

What are the 10 examples of apostrophe? ›

  • It's a nice day outside. ( contraction)
  • The cat is dirty. Its fur is matted. ( possession)
  • You're not supposed to be here. ( contraction)
  • This is your book. ( possession)
  • Who's at the door? ( contraction)
  • Whose shoes are these? ( possession)
  • They're not here yet. ( contraction)
  • Their car is red. ( possession)

What is the correct grammar for apostrophes? ›

An apostrophe is a small punctuation mark ( ' ) placed after a noun to show that the noun owns something. The apostrophe will always be placed either before or after an s at the end of the noun owner. Always the noun owner will be followed (usually immediately) by the thing it owns.

What is the possessive form of people? ›

People's and peoples' are possessive noun forms. While people's is the possessive of the word people, peoples' is the possessive of the word peoples – the plural of people.


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