From WordReference I discovered the following usage note

At one time, some usage guides maintained that people could not be preceded by a number, as in Fewer than 30 people showed up.


However, I cannot find any information regarding the reasons for this.

  • 1
    It may be that trad grammar demanded "persons" with a numerical determiner.
    – BillJ
    Oct 16, 2020 at 10:31
  • 1
    What is the question?
    – Lawrence
    Oct 16, 2020 at 10:47
  • It could literally mean not using arabic numerals. Thus "thirty people."
    – Stu W
    Oct 16, 2020 at 14:02

1 Answer 1


The reason is the etymology of “people”: it was not originally a plural noun form. It comes from Latin populus and French peuple, which are both singular in form, and generally singular in agreement (Latin sometimes has notional agreement, but I don’t know if that is attested with populus.)

The usage of the singular form people with plural agreement in English developed from a kind of “collective noun” usage, and since the singular form of a collective noun cannot be used as a countable plural form (we can say "the group are" or "the government are", but not "5 group are" or "5 government are"), it apparently used to be thought inappropriate to use people with a numeral. (Collective nouns may be pluralized to form plural count nouns like groups or governments, but that is irrelevant, as your question is about 30 people not 30 peoples).

However, present-day usage clearly does not restrict the use of people in this way. It can be used as the countable suppletive plural of person except for in certain special and uncommon senses, such as grammatical persons.

  • 1
    A collective noun such as "pride" in a pride of lions is countable, as in two different prides of lions share the territory. Originally a singular noun (e.g. The people is hungry..._–2 Samuel 17:29, KJV), the plural aspect of people is probably due to influence from Middle English _lede, leed, a plural since Old English.
    – GJC
    Nov 20, 2020 at 21:08

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