Common Modern Usage

Generally ‘person’ is used for the singular. ‘People’ is used for the plural.

1 person
100 people

‘Persons’

The common modern usage of ‘person’ and ‘people’ is quite simple. However, the technical usage is not so clear because the language has changed. Consequently ‘persons’ is still used in certain areas.

Previously ‘people’ referred to the population as a whole (i.e. ‘the people’, ‘The American people’, etc.). ‘Person’ related to an individual (‘I am a person’). Therefore, when discussing two or more individuals ‘persons’ was used.

This practice continues in technical, legal and formal language. The reason is to highlight that although there is more than one person, each person is an individual with rights, opinions and/or responsibilities.

‘The persons involved will be prosecuted’.
In this example the language tries to highlight that each person is an individual and each person (although as a group) will be prosecuted because he/she has responsibility for his/her actions.