Difference Between People vs. Persons

Main Difference

The main difference between the words people and persons is that people are used in a general context, and persons are used often in formal contexts.

People vs. Persons

The word people is used in a general context. The word ‘persons is used often in formal contexts. People refer to the plural of person. In the past, the word people referred to a group of individuals. Person is a singular noun meaning one individual. ‘The word persons referred to a specific number of individuals in the past. But now, the word persons is replaced with people. The use of persons is limited to formal contexts. Hence, in addition to the difference, these two words have, they also depict changes in the language over time. The word people comes from the Latin word populus, which means “a people, nation; body of citizens, and a multitude.” The word person comes from the Latin word persona, which means a singular “human being, person.” People is a mass noun that indicates a group of individuals. Persons is a mass noun that traditionally directed to an exact number of individuals. So the word ‘persons‘ is used when the exact number of individuals is known. This is not the same in the case of the term people. If another person joins one person at a place, they become two people in the same place. Therefore, people means two or more individuals. The term people is used in a general context. The term persons are mostly seen only in the formal context like legal and official documents. The usage of the word people is more modern. The usage of the word persons is more traditional.

Comparison Chart

PeoplePersons
A collective noun indicating a group of individualsA singular noun meaning one individual.
Etymology
From the Latin word PopulusFrom the Latin word persona
Context
GeneralFormal
Indicates
A group of individualsThe exact number of individuals.
Use
ModernTraditional

What are People?

The term people refers to a mass noun or collective nouns. It means that the word ‘people’ indicates the plural form of a singular noun. It would not be wrong, saying that the people is the plural noun of the singular noun, person. People is a collective noun that refers to a group of individuals irrespective of their number. The word people is used in a general context. In the past, the word people referred to a group of individuals. The word people comes from the Latin word populus, which means “a people, nation; body of citizens, and a multitude.” People is a mass noun that indicates a group of individuals. At present, people has taken all over the word persons. Furthermore, when we call for a collective noun (for example, to refer the members of an entire committee or nation) people is the most used and appropriate word. The usage of the word people is more modern. People is also sometimes used as a verb. Although this uncommon, accepted, use of the word. The verb people means to populate a location. It is conjugated into the past tense as peopled. E.g., Appalachia is peopled with the hardy mountain folk. As Merriam Webster dictionary points out ‘The word people, is so very general, that it cannot be connected with a determinate number; like four, five, or six people; but that of persons may.’

Examples

  • Do not demolish the building; there are still people in there!
  • “Despite the flaky floss evidence, medical experts urged people to continue the practice.” –Daily News
  • The Martians are noble and proud people.

What are Persons?

The word ‘Persons’ is a mass noun. It was traditionally used to demonstrate a specific number of individuals. In the modern context, some grammarians consider this as wrong and archaic. The term persons is still accepted and considered appropriate in legal texts and other varied formal texts even today. The word ‘persons’ is used often in formal contexts. Person is a singular noun meaning one individual. ‘The word persons referred to a specific number of individuals in the past. But now, the word persons is replaced with people. The use of persons is limited to formal contexts. Its origin is from the Latin word persona, which means a singular “human being, person.” The word ‘persons‘ is used when the exact number of individuals is known. The term persons is mostly seen only in the formal context like legal and official documents. The usage of the word persons is more traditional. In some contexts, Two or more individuals can be described as persons. But This usage is rare and is usually confined to specific legal phrases like “persons of interest” or “missing persons.” Also, in the legal contexts, person can describe an individual’s body or the clothing he is wearing. The term person always directs one individual. Traditionally, the word person was used when referring to a group of humans whose exact number was known.

Examples:

  • I want to hire a person for management.
  • In some states, individuals with drug paraphernalia found on their person are subject to arrest.
  • Five persons were involved in the robbery.

Key Differences

  1. Peoplerefers to the plural of person whereas person is a singular noun meaning one individual.
  2. The word people is used in a general context. On the other hand, the word ‘persons is used often in formal contexts.
  3. People is a mass noun that indicates a group of individuals on the flip side persons is a mass noun that traditionally directed to an exact number of individuals.
  4. The term people is used in a general context; conversely, the term persons is mostly seen only in the formal context like legal and official documents.
  5. The usage of the word people is more modern. On the contrary, the usage of the word persons is more traditional.

Conclusion

People and persons are two words in English that refer to individuals and groups of individuals. Both are interchangeable, but there is a significant difference between them.

Author:

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson

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