I know pretty well that the plural for 'person' is 'people'. But my literature professor used once the word 'persons' because, he said, he was using the word the same as it will be used 'individuals'. Or at least I understood it that way.

So, my question is: Can I use the word 'persons' in the next phrase? (I wrote the whole phrase in order for you to have the correct context.)

I'm so into the idea of developing each skill alike, the idea of being round persons.

Is it okay, or should I just use 'individuals'?

Thank you! :)

  • 1
    I don't believe I ever use the word "persons'; I use "people" for the plural of "person" in all contexts. – Peter Shor Jan 1 '15 at 11:53

In general, the plural of "person" is "people". Exceptions include formal contexts such as law enforcement, and idiomatic phrases like "missing persons" or "persons unknown".

A historical prescription is to use "people" for an unspecified number of people, and "persons" for a specific number of individuals: "many people" but "three persons". However, this rule is no longer followed, and "people" is used for both cases.

In your example, I would use "people". (I would also suggest using "well-rounded" instead of "round", and using a more articulate phrase than "so into" to describe your interest.)



Your sentence doesn't quite make sense and I think you need to use "individuals" if you want to refer to more than one person.

You could say:

I'm so into the idea of developing each skill alike, the idea of being a rounded person.


I'm so into the idea of developing each skill alike, the idea of having rounded individuals.

You can't really use "being" with "rounded individuals" as you can't "be" more than one person.

Also, you don't say what audience this is meant for.

"I'm so into" is a very "hip" was of saying "I am very enthusiastic about". For a more formal situation you probably should use the latter.


I disagree with your premise. "Person" is a noun that identifies a single individual human being. "People", on the other hand, is a noun used for a collection consisting of "persons". "People" seems like a plural for "person" because in order to have a collection, one must necessarily have more than one. Because in many instances when one refers to multiple individuals it is not necessary whether to specify whether one is referring to the group or the individuals (three people standing on a street corner can be as accurately described as either "those three people over there" or as "those three persons over there"), people gets more usage than "persons", but people is not the plural of person. "Persons" is the word to use to specify more than one individual, when it is necessary or desirable to retain the reference to individuals.


Your professor may be more or less correct about persons.

To be upfront about it, I cringe every time I see the word, but in the hospitality industry they use persons specifically for individuals members of a group. Ten people arriving is ten people who have never met, but ten persons is a group of ten. The reason is that a group of ten persons will be treated differently to ten people in terms of rooming, checking in etc.

I suspect that this usage is what your professor was referring to.


Use 'people' in your sentence, it doesn't otherwise make sense. 'Persons' (e.g. "persons wishing to remain aboard the train...,") has an officious tone, and is really only used in that manner.

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