Difference Between People and Persons

The main difference between people and persons is that at present, the word people is used in the general context while the word persons is used most often in formal contexts.

However, in the past, the two words were distinguished as the word people referring to a group of individuals while the word persons referring to a specific number of individuals. However, the word persons is now being replaced with people, also limiting the use of persons to formal contexts. Therefore, in addition to the main difference these two words carry, they also depict changes in the language over time.

Key Areas Covered

1. What Does People Mean
     – Definition, Significance, Usage
2. What Does Persons Mean
     – Definition, Significance, Usage
3. What are the Similarities Between People and Persons
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between People and Persons
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Language, People, Persons, UsageDifference Between People and Persons - Comparison Summary

What Does People Mean

The word people is a mass noun or collective nouns, meaning it indicates the plural form of a singular noun. People is the plural noun of the singular noun, person. Therefore, people refers to a group of individuals irrespective of their number.

As Merriam Webster points out ‘The word people, is so very general, that it cannot be connected with a determinate number; as for instance, four, five, or six people; but that of persons may.’

Difference Between People and Persons

Figure 1: The Pop band Westlife is among the most admired people in the Pop music world.

At present, people has taken over the word persons. Moreover, you should note that when you call for a collective noun (for example, to refer the members of an entire nation) people is the most appropriate word.

For example; The French people love to eat gateaux. Not- The French persons love to eat gateaux.

What Does Persons Mean

The word ‘Persons’ is also a mass noun like people, but unlike people, the word ‘persons‘ was traditionally used to demonstrate a specific number of individuals. However, in the modern context, some grammarians, especially the prescriptive grammarians, consider this as wrong and archaic.

Nevertheless, persons is still accepted and thus appropriate in legal texts and other varied formal texts even today.

The verdict regarding the four persons involved in the assault of the teenager….

Similarity Between People and Persons

  • Both are mass nouns or collective nouns that indicate a multitude of individuals. Therefore they are most often used as synonyms.

Difference Between People and Persons


People is a mass noun indicating a group of individuals while persons is a mass noun that traditionally referred to an exact number of individuals. Therefore, the word ‘persons‘ was used when the exact number of the individuals is known, unlike people.


The Latin word Populus, meaning ‘a nation, a body of citizens, or a multitude’, is the origin of the word People while the Latin word persona, meaning a human being, or a person, is the origin of the word persons.


People is used in a general context while persons is usually seen only in the formal context such as in legal and official documents at present. Comparatively, the usage of the word persons is more traditional while the word people is more modern. Therefore, unless in a formal context such as legal documents, the word people has taken over persons in the usage.


It is most confusing when one is torn between people or persons in various situations. However, with the changes that take place in the language usage with time, at present, the difference between people and persons is that the word people is used in a more general context while the word persons is used most often in formal contexts. Nevertheless, since both these are collective nouns or mass nouns, there are situations where people still use both as synonyms.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Nobel Peace Price Concert 2009 Westlife and Ragnhild Hemsing” By Photo: Harry Wad (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Upen

Upen, BA (Honours) in Languages and Linguistics, has academic experiences and knowledge on international relations and politics. Her academic interests are English language, European and Oriental Languages, Internal Affairs and International Politics, and Psychology.

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