50

I had a little fight about persons vs. people.

Could you advise if both of the following are correct, if possible with reference to a dictionary?

  1. A table for two people please.
  2. A table for two persons please.

Besides that, how would you ask for a table in a restaurant?

I read http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/persons and Person, Persons, People, Peoples, but they didn't really solve the question if both are correct.

I also found the last paragraph of http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/person, which suggests that (1) is "more correct", but doesn't say (2) is wrong.

  • 15
    You would say A table for two, please. – Daniel Oct 25 '11 at 18:54
33

Generally, persons is a decent substitute for individuals, and appears more in legal contexts that demand precision.

People is the ordinary plural of person.

Asking for a table for two or a table for two people is better than asking for a table for two persons.

  • 1
    I'm curious how they came to use "persons" instead of "people" legal contexts... – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oct 25 '11 at 19:01
  • 6
    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner It's a good question. Two things that come to mind are 1) the phrase "in person" (sometimes you're legally required to do things in person) and 2) the fact that it accords with the French plural (legalese loves itself some French and Latin). – user13141 Oct 25 '11 at 19:06
  • 2
    Or perhaps a more practical reason would be that it makes form-writing easier. Saying "Person(s) affected..." is pretty convenient. – user13141 Oct 25 '11 at 20:11
  • 4
    It is grammatically correct. It is also nonstandard. Everyone will understand you, but most people will assume it was a mistake. – user13141 Oct 26 '11 at 15:54
  • 3
    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner At law, people is a set of humans, but a person is a legal status – so "persons" is a set of individuals who all have the legal status of being a person. Hence a set of corporations may be referred to as persons, but not as people. – Brian M. Hunt Oct 25 '15 at 15:54
15

The NOAD I had on my Mac Mini had the following notes about using persons instead of people.

The words people and persons can both be used as the plural of person, but they are not used in exactly the same way. People is by far the more common of the two words and is used in most ordinary contexts: "a group of people"; "there were only about ten people"; "several thousand people have been rehoused". Persons, on the other hand, tends now to be restricted to official or formal contexts, as in "this vehicle is authorized to carry twenty persons"; "no persons admitted without a pass." In some contexts, persons, by pointing to the individual, may sound less friendly than people: "The number should not be disclosed to any unauthorized persons."

Similar notes can be found on the Oxford Living Dictionaries.

13

The normal plural of person is people, unless you're a bureaucrat.

  • 11
    Or you're discussing grammar: first person, second person and third person can (I guess) be called "three persons", but not "three people". :-) – ShreevatsaR Oct 25 '11 at 19:06
  • 1
    I agree. Good point. – Barrie England Oct 25 '11 at 19:28
  • I also faced similar dilemma when developing a software application. I have a list of registered people/persons whose status will be monitored monthly. Somehow it seemed awkward to call the list "Monitored people" because in this context we have specific persons - the ones registered in the database and not some abstract group of unknown people. But I'm still not 100% sure about "Monitored persons" either. Or maybe even "Monitored personas"? :D – JustAMartin Aug 15 '16 at 8:23
8

According to this online article from DailyWritingTips, the words person and people are derived from different latin origins: persona and populum, respectively.

The article goes on to suggest that both person and people can be used in their own natural plural forms; persons and peoples, but modern daily use favours the following combination:

Singular: Person

Plural: People

The entry also backs up @onomatomaniak 's assertion that persons is used more for legal text, but doesn't indicate that persons is any more precise than people. The article doesn't reference any sources itself.

protected by RegDwigнt Jan 16 '13 at 21:33

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.