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Q&A: People vs Persons?


Every week right here on the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and talk about, contort and retort, ask and gasp on the English language and all its guidelines, laws and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive complain about phrases and weirdness. This week, it’s the People versus Persons in a court-case of grammatical proportions…

Q: Hello AWC, bear in mind how final week we talked about cash and monies?
A: Sure, it was a really rewarding dialog.
Q: Effectively there was one other half to that query – and it pertains to an identical factor. Why do we are saying “persons” after we have already got a collective noun in “people”…?
A: Truly, you have to be asking the other – why we’re utilizing “individuals” as an alternative of “persons”. However first a historical past lesson.
Q: Ooooh oooh, can we do Historical Egypt? Or the Soviet Union within the early Nineteen Sixties?
A: No, we meant the historical past of this matter.
Q: Oh.
A: So, going again to their Latin origins, these phrases derive from two fairly separate locations. “Persons” comes from persona – regarding the person. In the meantime “individuals” is from populus – for a gaggle of persons sharing an setting.
Q: That is smart.
A: Precisely, so the true plural of “particular person” is certainly “persons”, however over time it was changed by “people” in most areas.
Q: Didn’t any person attempt to cease it taking place?
A: Effectively, there was a little bit of a motion in direction of utilizing “people” just for an unknown mass of nicely, individuals. And “persons” for ANY variety of people that might be counted. For instance, “Six individuals attended the public sale that noticed the property handed in at $2.4 million.” However that entire rule by no means actually took off, and right now we’d be extra doubtless say “six people attended the public sale”.
Q: Wow, handed in at THAT quantity? Should be a pleasant place.
A: Sure, sure, certain.
Q: Swimming pool?
A: Um, sure okay. It was simply an examp–
Q: What a few tennis courtroom?
A: Positive. It has three.
Q: Three? Now I KNOW you’re making it up.
A: Good, in order we had been saying, regardless of “particular person” having a wonderfully good plural type, these days “people” is used for nearly all conditions of two or extra people. The usage of “individuals” has been confined to authorized or formal contexts solely. For instance, “Police are presently following up with persons of curiosity.”
Q: Authorized people simply love to make use of old school phrases. Received one other instance?
A: Positive. In a proper signal, it might say “Most two individuals at anyone time”. It additionally will get utilized in reference to the physique, like in, “Police discovered the stolen gadgets on their persons”.
Q: I'm wondering in the event that they robbed the imaginary mansion? They may have taken two of the tennis courts for starters…
A: Very humorous. In order that’s it actually. “People” is normally nice except you’re being authorized or formal. Some other questions?
Q: Sure. Is “peoples” a phrase?
A: It's really – it is the plural of people.
Q: When would I exploit that?
A: In the event you had been referring to people of various races, you’d use it – e.g. “the peoples of Japanese Europe”. Notice, that is completely different to utilizing it for possession, comparable to “the individuals’s needs” – that would come with an apostrophe.
Q: Okay, we’ve began to speak about apostrophes, so I’m leaving earlier than this will get ugly.
A: Good thought.