Person or People: What’s the Difference?

English has many words to refer to individuals and groups of individuals. Person and people are two of the most common terms used in this way, but it can be difficult to remember whether people or person is right in a given context.

What is the Difference Between Person and People?

In this article, I’ll compare person vs. people. I will go over each word’s definition, and I will correctly use each word in a sentence. Plus, at the end, I will also give you a helpful trick to remember whether to use person or people.

When to Use Person

Person versus peopleWhat does person mean? Person is a singular noun that means one individual.

Sheena is a person. Martin is also a person. Together, Martin and Sheena are two people, but alone, each of them is a person.

See the following examples:

  • I want to hire a person to do all of my billing for me.
  • According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Cubs and Yankees have been engaged in heavy discussions that put the NL Central leaders ahead of the Nationals and Indians in the race to secure Chapman’s 105-mph fastball. –New York Post

Two or more individuals can be described as persons in some contexts. This usage is rare and usually confined to specific legal phrases like “missing persons” or “persons of interest.”

In legal contexts, person can also describe an individual’s body or the clothing the individual is wearing.

  • Variants of the phrase “Keep all valuables on your person” can be seen on signs in many stadiums and arenas.
  • In some states, individuals with drugs or drug paraphernalia found on their person are subject to arrest.

When to Use People

Plural of peopleWhat does people mean? People is the plural of person.

If one person in a room is joined by another person entering the room, they become two people in a room. Thus, people means two or more individuals.

See the following examples,

  • Don’t demolish the office building, there are still people in there!
  • Despite the flaky floss evidence, medical experts urged people to continue the practice. –Daily News

The number of individuals still inside the building does not matter. There could be two office workers or two hundred office workers. They are all people, and they are all in imminent danger.

People can also be a collective noun, referring to all the members of an ethnic group, nationality, or other community. If there were Martians, we might use the following sentence when talking about them:

  • The Martians are a proud and noble people.

People is sometimes used as a verb. This is an uncommon, but accepted, use of the word. It means to populate a location. It is normally conjugated into the past tense as peopled. Here is an example:

  • Appalachia is peopled with hardy mountain folk.

People has many usage cases, but they all deal with a group of two or more individuals.

Trick to Remember the Difference

People singular or pluralIf you are still confused on people vs. person, here is a helpful trick to remember the difference.

If you are referring to one individual, that individual is a person. If you are referring to two or more individuals, those individuals are people. You can remember this rule by noticing the ON at the end of person, and the ON at the beginning of one. This should help you remember that a person is one individual.

Of course, there is an exception to this rule, used rarely and in legal contexts. This usage is confined to specific phrases. In common usage, people should be used to refer to more than one person.

Summary

Is it people or person? Both person and people have multiple senses.

However, person always relates to one individual, and people always relates to more than one individual, except in specific legal scenarios.

You can remember which is which by remembering that one and person both have the letters ON in them. You can also reread this article as a refresher.