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When To Use “Persons” or “People”

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There’s a time and place for “persons” and “people.” We’ll teach you when each of these words should be used.

Is it people or persons? People vs. Persons
“Persons” used to be the preferred plural version of “person,” but that’s usually not the case anymore.
  • There was a time when persons was the favored plural form of the word person. But in Modern English, people has become the more common word to use when referring to person in plural.
    • So many people donated gifts to the charity.
  • Use people when referring to a group of individuals from a signal ethnic group or nationality.
    • ○ ✅ The American people flock to the voting stands every four years to vote in the presidential elections.
      ○ ❌ The American persons flock to the voting stands every four years to vote in the presidential elections.
  • The use of persons is most often seen in legal writing, and in established expressions like “missing persons.”
  • If you’re in doubt, the safest bet is to always use people when referring to a group of individuals.

“Persons” vs. “People”

If you’re here, you may be asking yourself, “is persons grammatically correct?” The answer is that technically speaking, it’s not wrong. But people has become the more common word to use when referring to person in the plural form. In fact, some style guides explicitly state not to use the word persons.

People and persons have Latin roots. People came from the word “populus,” which means “the people” or “nation.” Person derived from the word “persona,” which originally meant “a mask,” but then evolved to mean “an individual human being.”

Below, we’ll go over when to use persons and when to use people.

When to use people, when to use persons
People always refers to a group of individuals, never a single individual. 

Understanding When To Use “Persons” or “People”

Although people has become the favored plural form of the word person, there are still a few instances where one might encounter the word persons. For example, persons is commonly found in legal or technical writing. This is done to emphasize a group of individuals and not a group of people as a whole.

Any person or persons found trespassing will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

In this example, persons is used instead of people because the law applies to the individuals and never to the group as a whole.

There are also some instances where persons is part of an established term, like internally displaced persons or missing persons.

He was a detective who worked for the Missing Persons Unit.

People, on the other hand, is primarily used as a collective noun, or a noun that represents one entity or a group of individuals. For that reason, you’ll usually see people is commonly used to refer to multiple individuals from an ethnic group or nationality.

The people of Canada are known to be extremely kind.

It is not uncommon to encounter the word peoples. It’s often reserved for when referring to multiple different yet specific groups that share a commonality, like Indigenous peoples. The use of peoples in this case helps indicate that there are separate and distinct groups.


“People” or “Persons”?

In short, persons is typically only found in legal or technical writing. But if you’re referring to the plural of person as a collective noun, then the word you should use is people. For example:

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