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‘People’ vs. ‘Persons’

1. Common Modern Usage

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

1 person
100 people

2. ‘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.

Historical meaning still used in technical circumstances

In the past:
‘people’ = the population as a whole (e.g. ‘the people’, ‘The American people’)
‘person’ = an individual (‘I am a person’)
Therefore, when discussing two or more individuals ‘persons’ was used.

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

3. Examples of ‘persons’

SituationSentenceExplanation
LawThe persons involved will be prosecuted.Each person, even in a group, will be prosecuted because he/she is responsible for individual actions
Safety noticeThis elevator holds a maximum of 12 persons.Although the group may be 12, individuals probably will not arrive in the elevator together and should take individual responsibility for group safety


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