I am from Holland. In Dutch, we have the word "Volk" to describe the masses of people formed by a group with genetic, cultural, and ideological bonds and similarities. So in Dutch "Volk" is the proper original noun for "ethnic group" just as in English the proper original noun is "folk" (and not "people", since "people" is latinate).

Now in Holland we use the words "Volken" or "Volkeren" to describe the plural of the word "Volk", so they describe a set of several different ethnic groups. We use the word "Volks" when we use it as an adjective, both in the singular and plural forms. As a singular term, it would translate into English as "folkish".

However I am searching for the translation of the adjective used as a plural. In English, a plural is mostly created with an "s" after the singular, so that would make "folks". However, where "folks" in English can be used to define just a group of people, "Volken" or "Volkeren" as nouns in Dutch would never mean just a group of people, just as the Dutch adjective "Volks" used in the plural never would. It would always mean a set of different ethnic groups.

So now I am searching for one single word that, as in Dutch, describes "a set of different ethnic groups" like the word "Volks" without running the risk that folks think I am just talking about "a set of people". There is a large difference between the definitions of "a set of different ethnic groups" and "a set of people", and I need to make a headline in which I have only room for one word to communicate the correct meaning.

I should be able to use it in the translation of the Dutch sentence

"En het vrije volks verbond leeft voort...."

which in English would be

"And the free XXXX federation lives on...."

where XXXX is the word I am searching for.

  • 41
    You need to better explain why you don't like peoples with it's possessive peoples', which is the word that native English speakers would use to complete your sentence. Latin origin? Sorry, that's English for you.
    – Spencer
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:47
  • 2
    Back when they first came to prominence, the Beaker Folk were almost always called just that. But now they're often called the Beaker People. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:58
  • 7
    You state that volk translates to “ethnic group” (two words). So why are you so insistent that volken translate to only one word?
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 20:28
  • 2
    Or if Peoples is out, then ethnicities?
    – Sentinel
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 22:34
  • 10
    What's wrong with latin?
    – xDaizu
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 8:48

9 Answers 9


It's really, really difficult, sometimes impossible, to use English without words that have a Latin origin. And really, peoples with its possessive peoples', is the first word a native English speaker would use. If a word came via Norman French, as "people" did, it's indubitably part of the English language.

In order to complete your example sentence, you use the possessive of "peoples":

And the free peoples' federation lives on....

You could also use nations (such as in the Canadian term "First Nations") but that has an implication of political sovereignty and is just as derived from Latin. Possible candidate words in Old English could be slydeas or one of the derivatives of þéod such as ingeþeóde, gumþéoda, werþéoda (cf. Tolkien's name Éothéod for the Rohirrim), but if you used one of these, only a few people would know what you're talking about.

You may have found it difficult to find a definition for "peoples" in an online search, because of the way search engines work. Usually, it's buried in a definition for "people", such as the one at Merriam-Webster:

People 5: (plural peoples) : a body of persons that are united by a common culture, tradition, or sense of kinship, that typically have common language, institutions, and beliefs, and that often constitute a politically organized group.

The definition at Dictionary.com has a really good example, buried in a "usage note":

The aboriginal peoples of the Western Hemisphere speak many different languages.

And of course we have no less a light than J.R.R. Tolkien, in The Two Towers, during Treebeard's perplexity over what kind of thing Merry and Pippin were:

Learn now the lore of the living creatures!

First name the four, the free peoples,

Eldest of all, the Elf-Children,

Dwarf the delver, dark are his houses,

Ent the earthborn, old as mountains,

Man the mortal, master of horses...

Tolkien clearly uses "peoples" to refer to several different but distinct groups of people.

Update: I was asked to address the concept of "peoples' X of Y." Google NGrams shows a huge ratio of "people's republic" to peoples' republic" and the first half dozen Google Books results for the latter were actually mistranscribed by Google -- they appear as "people's republic" in the actual books. My feel is that socialism is a homogenizing influence when it becomes the foundation of a state -- ideology is going to trump separate cultural identity.

  • 1
    I highly doubt there is any one English word that has ONLY the specific meaning the OP asks for and no others, but this is the closest.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 15:57
  • 2
    Given that this is going to be the top answer for this question, you really should mention to OP that "the People(s|') X of Y" is almost invariably a Communist state, not a descriptively multiethnic one. If he's really aiming to describe many peoples working together without any suggestion of Marxism, he should just leave the word out of the name altogether and explain that it's a Federation or Federative Republic, which implicitly involves fairly powerful distinct regions working together.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:23
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    @Ily: The usage in English is exclusively (as far as I can tell) the "People's Republic of Y", not the "Peoples' Republic of Y". But I agree that many people will make the association without paying close attention to the position of the apostrophe. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:29
  • @MichaelSeifert You're not wrong at all. 'People's Republic' has its own Wikipedia page and 'Peoples' Republic' isn't even a redirect but poke around on Google and you'll see that they'll just assume he misspelled the other, since that's what every use of it I can find amounts to. They've even got books whose titles talk about the 'Peoples' Republic of China'.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:48
  • “The free peoples of the world” was if anything a slogan of Western leaders during the Cold War. Winston Churchill said it in his 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech (and had been using it since at least 1938) and Harry Truman in his 1949 inaugural address. Although the phrase had been in use by other world leaders since at least 1910, It is likely that Tolkien consciously or unconsciously took the phrase from Churchill.
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 9:10

You actually get quite close to the answer in your own question, where you say:

Just as in English where the proper original noun is "Folk" (and not "People", since people is a latination).

Whatever you might like to call "the proper original noun", the commonly used word in English for "ethnic group" is "People":

  1. the entire body of persons who constitute a community, tribe, nation, or other group by virtue of a common culture, history, religion, or the like: the people of Australia; the Jewish people.


And, as that link says, the plural of people is Peoples. Anything belonging to them, or for them, would use the possessive apostrophe, making your sentence:

"And the free peoples' federation lives on...."


Disclaimer: I’m an American, and other people might use the same words differently.

You can say ethnicities, and one word for a society with many of them living together is multiethnic.

AndyT’s suggestion of peoples is good, and would be considered a literal translation of volken. (Volkswagen is translated into English as “The People’s Car.”) Winston Churchill spoke of “the free peoples of the world” at the start of the Second World War and the Cold War, and Harry Truman, in his 1948 inaugural address, also used this same phrase It predates them; Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson also said something similar. More recently, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton quoted Churchill’s version as well in her 2016 convention speech, and Vice-President Mike Pence talked about “the free peoples of the Americas” in a speech on August 15, 2017.

A place where many different ethnic groups live and mingle is cosmopolitan. If they live in segregated neighborhoods and don’t mix very much, those are ghettos or various less-pejorative terms such as enclaves. If they’re all assimilating to the same culture, it’s a melting-pot. If they’re equal, not segregated, and don’t want to assimilate, that’s multicultural. If each linguistic minority gets its own autonomous region, that might be called cantons after the districts of Switzerland, and a system like that is (with slightly negative connotation) cantonized or (more neutrally) cantonal.

Although I wouldn’t recommend it in this context, “peoples of the world” is a secondary meaning of the word nations, used for example in modern translations of the Bible. Today, though, nations more often means countries, and using the word in the archaic sense might confuse people. (Or, worse, give an American the impression you don’t think they’re a real American.) It survives in the terms nation-state as distinct from a multiethnic state or a diaspora, and when we call an ethnic separatist trying to create a nation-state a nationalist.

Cultures comes close, but refers to customs and traditions, not to the people themselves; if a culture is dying out, that means that the people are still alive but their children are assimilating.

I would recommend against races in this context, although it wouldn’t offend anyone, because it has a slightly-different meaning. Someone whose ancestors were from another continent might be fully-assimilated, especially in America, yet still considered a different race from the majority, and a proud nationalist who doesn’t speak the same language or dress the same might be considered the same race. You’re not talking about their physical features.

The cognate folk exists in English, but has the wrong connotations (folk tales and folk wisdom connote rural superstitions). The plural, folks, is best known for a cartoon character’s catchphrase, “That’s all, folks!” and is just slang for “You guys.” Avoid the loanword volk in English. It’s associated with Nazi Germany and has strong negative connotations.

  • 1
    This is an encyclopedic summary of these terms, which is great even if all of them don't fit OP's example sentence. Given it's thoroughness, however, you should go ahead and address the Communist association of countries named "the People's Foo of Freedonia".
    – lly
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:21
  • 3
    @lly Add more paragraphs? Are you out of your volken mind? 🖖
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:30
  • You could always just make the existing one longer and nix the aside about cantons, which are just going to make people think about dim sum and wontons anyway.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:53
  • @lly True! :) Anyway, I know that Communists like to brand themselves as the People’s This of That, but they called their international organization the Communist International. There’s also a (very different) Socialist International. “The free peoples of the world” is a phrase commonly used by American presidents since the Cold War and not associated with Communists at all. Actually, I will go back and add in some examples.
    – Davislor
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 21:04
  • Your remark about races is not entirely correct. For those that know that, even scientifically, there is only one single human race, the perpetuation of the idea of multiple human races is in and of itself offensive (it is literally racist...).
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 13:59

I would most likely use the word "community". Very broad scope.


In the Dutch expression:

volks verbond

which is usually written as:


the word "volks" is not a plural or an adjective, but the genitive of the singular noun "volk"; it comes from:

des volks verbond

or, in less archaic Dutch:

het verbond van het volk

So the correct translation is:

people's federation

As the use of the singular "volk" indicates, it is a federation of members of one people or nation.

It should not be confused with "volkenbond" or "volkerenbond", the Dutch term for the "League of Nations". Here you have the plural "volken" and "volkeren" because the League of Nations is indeed a league of several nations or peoples.

  • 1
    Right, and the volk versus folk thing is a false friend.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 17:54
  • 1
    @Lambie Yes, the question contains a lot of confusing information. I guess you have to understand Dutch to really make sense of it.
    – user221615
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 18:00
  • 1
    It annoys me when the kind of explanation you have given does not get the most support. It actually explains it in terms of the two languages. And here that is what is most relevant. A contrastive explanation and not one solely rooted in English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 18:57
  • 2
    @Lambie It's mostly a matter of timing; I only saw the question 24h after it had been posted.
    – user221615
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 21:53

You can use "races" but that's pretty verboten these days; it has a raft of negative connotations attached to it. "Peoples" is also a grammatically appropriate term and probably better accepted by most readers.

  • "Peoples" with a capital "P", I would say. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:42
  • @JohnGo-Soco Yes I think you have a point there.
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:50
  • The most obvious explanation for the negative connotations may be the fact that there is only one human race, for every definition of race except those that are based on negative intent.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 14:02


relating to or constituting several cultural or ethnic groups within a society.

  • 4
    This doesn't seem to fit the example sentence - by using an adjective, "And the free multicultural federation lives on....", the word "free" now applies to the federation, not to the ethnic groups. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 17:02
  • 1
    @TobySpeight The word 'free' will generally be understood as referring to the noun anyway, if it doesn't get a hyphen. This is the right answer if OP really wanted to emphasize the state's multiethnicity, even though no actual state has ever put it in their official name.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:32
  • In the original, there was another (possessive) noun, which tends to attract the adjective more closely. Compare "free peoples' federation" with "free multicultural federation"; we don't hyphenate _free-peoples'_, at least in part because we don't need to. For a simpler example, an analogy is "*the red boats' flag" (usually, the flag of the red boats) as compared to "the red marine flag" (the red flag of boats). Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 7:43

There may be some problems with saying "races" but if you say "the races" that's not an insult -- it means multiple different ethnic groups, particularly multiple different ethnic minority groups.

  • Race and ethnic group are not synonyms. There are many ethnic groups, there is only one human race. The idea of there being multiple human races is not only outdated, it is scientifically incorrect.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 14:03
  • Yes, but "the races" is a term that's used that way. The popular song "I'll Take You There" contains the phrase "lying to the races". (Yes, I know, it's anecdotal, so shoot me.)
    – Jennifer
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 18:52

"Races" wouldn't work because it only suggests a genetic bond while ethnic groups also have cultural bonds.

"Nations" wouldn't work because it suggests a geographical boundary, while ethnic groups can live spread over several nations.

I thought "peoples" wouldn't work because "people" is often used in a more general sense without referring to a common ethnic background and "peoples" might suffer the same way.

But, if "peoples" used as an adjective ALWAYS refers to groups with different ethnic backgrounds, then I suppose that would be the way to go.

Pity, because the term "Free Folks Federation" has so much more creative possibilities than "Free Peoples Federation" and I just cannot come up with something that really sounds and alliterates equally well and communicates the same idea.

  • 2
    Sorry to break this to you, but every paragraph of this is mistaken. 'Races' can be understood as including cultural bonds but suffers from having been used by white pseudoscientists, imperialists, & racists. 'Nations' can be understood as referring to transnational ethnicities like the Germans & Italians, although that's a dated sense & needs some context to do so. Countable 'peoples' is an entirely different sense/word from uncountable 'people' but 'peoples' is a noun & never an adjective. Attributive nouns in English are nearly always singular. (A man 6 feet tall = a 6-foot-tall man.)
    – lly
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:14
  • 2
    The 'Free Folks Federation' is alliterative in an amusing way, not a euphonious one. It's far less serious sounding than the 'Free Peoples' Federation' and provides no creative possibilities. The connotation is rural Southern English or 'old folks' homes' and not anything realistically political. That said, using 'the people' in your country's name at all doesn't make it sound folksy or inclusive; it makes it sound Communist because of the many many states which have used the term in their names.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:19
  • Oh, there is that other association for 'folk' these days: the freefolk who spoil Game of Thrones ON AN OPEN FIELD NED (and their namesakes in the books and show). If that was what you were going for, just go for it. And tell Cersei.
    – lly
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:35
  • "folk" isn't really a serious word in English. It always sounds, well, folksy. I would avoid it in anything but the most casual of contexts.
    – user428517
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 16:20
  • Folk music, folk fashion, folk cuisine, folk art, folk traditions, folk dialectology -- all treated with great respect and taken very seriously where I'm from. That is not to say we don't enjoy those things, of course.
    – Bread
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 23:24

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