I was originally framing this question as a search for the 'right word' but the site's suggestions pointed me to a previous question that was almost identical. So I'll turn the question around and ask, why there isn't a word that describes the superset of People and Institutions ? Does anyone know of a word in another language that fits the bill? Care to coin a word for it?


In the sense that both people and businesses have some traits in common: they all have addresses and phone numbers, it makes sense to 'have spoken to them', they both post stuff on the Internet, you can send an invoice to them etc., they are 'of a kind'. There is even a legal concept of companies being persons.

'Entity' is too broad. Everything is an entity, even counting numbers. 'Institution' doesn't include individuals.

* As I haven't had many suggestions, I'm adding my own clumsy attempt to coin a word.
Homosim. Companies and people are homosimilar. Also, I've discovered 'Party' works reasonably well.

  • Ah, but (in the US) a business is, as you state, a "person", so the "super-type" is "people".
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 10 '16 at 4:18
  • mmm, OK. Now you owe me a single word for 'Genus homo' that sounds polite when it's applied to your Grandma :-)
    – Mbo42
    Feb 10 '16 at 4:45
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    @HotLicks Indeed the US supreme court is often quoted as saying that corporations are people. Whenever I hear that it makes me think of soylent green. Feb 10 '16 at 4:45
  • It makes me think of HAL-9000 from 2001. "I'm sorry, Dave. I have to downsize..."
    – Joe L.
    Feb 10 '16 at 7:12
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    @HotLicks the plural of person is persons, not people. We use people as if it were a plural , but it's really a mass noun, from the latin populus meaning the lower stratum of the populace. It has its own plural, peoples.
    – frank
    May 15 '16 at 14:46

When you ask for a super-type of two items, be they people, concepts or something else, you imply the existence of a taxonomy that includes both as well as an item that is an ancestor to both.

We can therefore recast the question as "What is an appropriate taxonomy for people and businesses?"

First, what is a taxonomy?

Taxonomy (from Greek taxis meaning arrangement or division and nomos meaning law) is the science of classification according to a pre-determined system, with the resulting catalog used to provide a conceptual framework for discussion, analysis, or information retrieval. - Margaret Rouse

There isn't really a widely-used taxonomy that includes both people and businesses, so it's natural to ask how one might set up such a taxonomy.

Two of the predominant types of relationships in knowledge-representation systems are predication and the universally quantified conditional. Predication relationships express the notion that an individual entity is an example of a certain type (for example, John is a bachelor), while universally quantified conditionals express the notion that a type is a subtype of another type (for example, A dog is a mammal, which means the same as All dogs are mammals). - Brachman, quoted by Wikipedia

(Although you use the term super-type, I take it that you would be happy for either style to produce a common word.)

We're now looking for commonalities, be it something that both are examples of, or a conceptual union of the concepts people and businesses. The problem is that the concepts are arguably more different than chalk and cheese - one is real and the other is a legal fiction. You need to go a long way up the taxonomic tree to get to a common ancestor, at which point entity starts looking reasonable. Your objection that it is "too broad" simply reflects the distance between people and businesses in any generic taxonomy. That is, they are ontologically rather distinct.

Taking one more step into this rabbit warren, let's consider the kind of ontology we can construct for your question. There are two basic types:

  • domain ontology, which has a restricted universe of discussion (the domain); and
  • upper ontology, which "describes very general concepts that are the same across all knowledge domains" - Wikipedia

A domain ontology, say restricted to taxation, gives rise to 'super-types' such as taxpayer, and it seems to me that an upper ontology gives rise to 'super-types' such as entity.

So the 'simple' answer to your question is that there are super-types for people and businesses. A deeper answer would likely need to delve into the fundamental nature of people and businesses. I've started to look at that, but further exploration of this topic is perhaps best left for another question, given the length of this answer as it stands.

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    First ... LOUD APPLAUSE !!. You've nailed it. The reason there isn't such a word is probably because we still like to preserve something 'special' for real people, our amygdala won't handle combining squishy people with legal entities. I'll still cry foul over 'Entity'. I don't think you can find anything that falls outside the scope of 'entity'. ... mmm maybe another question in that....
    – Mbo42
    Feb 19 '16 at 17:01

Consider legal entity (or legal person) that is a person or organization that can enter into contracts, and take part in legal action.

A lawful or legally standing association, corporation, partnership, proprietorship, trust, or individual, that has legal capacity to enter into agreements or contracts, assume obligations, incur and pay debts, sue and be sued in its own right, and to be accountable for illegal activities.

  • That's right, but it doesn't really capture what I mean; speaking to, engaging with on the same level, doing 'human' things, getting the plumbing fixed. They are all things that even your dog can't do. I spoke to Telstra today, and I spoke to my mum. Not just the legal definitions.
    – Mbo42
    Feb 19 '16 at 17:32

These categories are specific to the context, but include both individuals and businesses:

  • Taxpayer - not all, but most, fall into this category (tongue-in-cheek).
  • Account (or account-holder)- in the context of another business.
  • I don't mind 'account' , it would work in a financial context, though it's probably a bit ambiguous. 'The account has an outstanding account'. Is it his financials or his child that we're referring to?
    – Mbo42
    Feb 10 '16 at 4:58

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