If you refer to people in a room, does that imply that those people are alive?

If you said:

People in a boardroom

It is reasonable to assume they are alive, but I am not sure if its implied.

Conversely, if you said:

People in a cemetery

It may be assumed that they are dead, but again, I am unsure if that is implied.

Clarification would be much appreciated.

To specify a little further as to how this came about, a friend shared a vague riddle someone with me.

If there are four people in a room and you enter the room and two people die, how many people are left in the room.

I said 3 because I assumed people meant alive, but he said 5 because no people (alive or dead) had left the room.

  • I'm confused by your use of the single-word-requests tag. You don't seem to be requesting a word. Are you sure you didn't mean to use meaning or grammar instead? Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 4:31
  • Ah! In terms of a riddle, always assume a "trick" question. In that context—guessing that the obvious answer was too obvious—I might have guessed five. But only if I'd thought to not be obvious, which is something that can be surprisingly difficult to do. The "real" answer in the case of that riddle is that, without some rules defined in advance, both can be seen to be correct. (Another approach is to ask the person presenting the riddle How are you defining the words *people, room, die, and left? As many riddles like this come do come down to trick questions and assumptions.) Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 5:07
  • @JasonBassford With that "riddle" as phrased, I would expect the friend to insist that OP was wrong regardless of what answer was given. Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 13:55
  • @KamilDrakari "Before I give you my answer, please write down the actual answer for later confirmation." ;) Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 14:04
  • people and dead people Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 2:36

4 Answers 4


Actually, I wouldn't assume that if you said people in the cemetery you were talking about the corpses.

I've always thought that, by default, people are alive.

If you're talking about a cemetery, I'd assume you were referring to visitors or mourners.

Even with people in the morgue, I'd assume you were talking about doctors performing autopsies, or police or family members identifying cadavers.

I think the safest assumption would always be that people refers to the living.

To convey the opposite, either say dead people or use some specific contextual phrasing:

The only people in the cemetery were the corpses.

Also, what you are actually implying is hopefully mirrored in the words you use to express yourself, but words themselves don't actually imply anything.

It's the writers of words who do the implying—and they use appropriate or inappropriate words for their purpose.

Conversely, readers of words infer meaning from their own understanding of the words that were used.

Ideally, both people have the same understanding of the words used, and the inference matches the implication.

(Some people might debate me over this, given the fourth sense of the definition of imply here, but I find it logically inconsistent for somebody to say that agentless words can imply something when, in order to say that, they have to first infer a meaning. It seems to me that they are simply assuming what the author had meant to imply. I think that fourth sense of imply is a bit suspect on analysis—although I can see why people might use it that way.)

  • 2
    "i see dead people" phrase from the "6th sence" movie comes to mind
    – tsayper
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 4:45
  • "The only people in the cemetary were the deceased" would be a nicer way to put it. "Corpses" doesn't sound as...polite.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 23:31

The term 'people' implies a single state, that is 'alive'. But when add a specific word (e.g. Corpses) or add adjectives (e.g. Buried or dead) before the term 'people' that describes it as 'dead', implies dead state.

  1. People in a boardroom [alive].
  2. Dead people in a boardroom [dead, as it has adjective].
  3. Corpses in a boardroom [dead].
  4. People in a cemetry [if you meant to say dead ones, here it is incorrect].

Thus it would be correct to add adjective before the term 'people': dead/buried people in a cemetry.

Additionally, rather use the term 'corpses' to avoid verbosity e.g. Corpses in a cemetry.


It depends on whether you mean people as in a group of persons, or people as a multi-generational community:


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

n. Humans considered as a group or in indefinite numbers: People were dancing in the street. I met all sorts of people.

n. A body of persons living in the same country under one national government; a nationality.

n. A body of persons sharing a common religion, culture, language, or inherited condition of life.

n. Persons with regard to their residence, class, profession, or group: city people.

n. The mass of ordinary persons; the populace. Used with the: "those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes” ( Thomas Jefferson).

n. The citizens of a political unit, such as a nation or state; the electorate. Used with the.

n. Persons subordinate to or loyal to a ruler, superior, or employer: The queen showed great compassion for her people.

n. Family, relatives, or ancestors.

n. Informal Animals or other beings distinct from humans: Rabbits and squirrels are the furry little people of the woods. transitive v. To furnish with or as if with people; populate.

The former, a group of persons, is assumed to have personhood, and therefore to be alive. The latter, a multi-generational community, as in a people or my people, may be dead or alive, and is defined not by personhood, but by shared heritage.

  • 1
    Person need not be alive.
    – Kris
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 5:21
  • 1
    AHD is right, too. Primary meanings are not exclusive meanings. Take time to read through all the listed meanings.
    – Kris
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 5:38
  • 1
    "In so doing, all nine justices recognized that a dead person retains an interest in a good reputation -- shattering the common pretense that this was not true. " supreme.findlaw.com/legal-commentary/defaming-the-dead.html
    – Kris
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 5:50
  • 1
    "Any resemblance to any person dead or alive is purely coincidental."
    – Kris
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 5:54
  • 1
    "These included 3 persons awarded posthumously."
    – Kris
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 6:02

The answer is in the question. People dead or alive are biological creations of nature's God. Persons natural of artificial are fictional creations of grammar and legislation.

  • Bare assertions aren't going to get you up-votes. Can you provide references in support?
    – user888379
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 22:44
  • Persons natural of artificial - I'm not sure what you mean by that. Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 22:45
  • We the People...establish this Constitution for the United States of America. That means for use by the People (to restrict government, not the People. From there on out it mentions "persons" except in Amendment 17 about electing senators to the office. Offices are fictions (Office of President) To refer errors to their source is to refute them. Persona is the mask an actor wears. Look at any state statute or federal legislation definitions of person. Natural person is still a subset of person, ie, artificial. Law must be precise. It cannot imply. What is not mentioned is excluded. Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 15:47

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