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prasad's avatar

People or Peoples?

Asked by prasad (3824 points ) December 23rd, 2012

People is plural form by itself (as I know it). Dictionaries say “peoples” mean people belonging to a particular place, country, or race, etc. But still, I don’t understand it. I use “people” all the time. What is difference between “people” and “peoples”? When to use which?

For example, Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary has an example.
the native peoples of Siberia
If I were to write the above example, I would use “people”.
the native people of Siberia
So, am I correct? If I am wrong, please explain.

Some people (here) use “peoples” to mean many people (plural). I feel it is wrong; just like using childrens in place of children, which is already a plural form.

Do you use “peoples”? Can you give few examples?

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37 Answers

Brian1946's avatar

According to http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/peoples , there are usages of peoples that are correct:

”...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”

I’d say that your usage is also correct because you’re referring to the all of the human beings that were born and live in Siberia, regardless of their cultural distinctions, whereas the above example could refer to the culturally distinct groups of people native to Siberia.

prasad's avatar

And, with reference to this page persons, people, peoples, if I want to refer to 100 men, which one shall I prefer? 100 persons or 100 people? (I would choose 100 persons).

And, as with peoples in the last paragraphs, if there are three tribes in Argentina, I may refer to one tribe as people and all three tribes taken together as peoples. Is that so?

zensky's avatar

And, as with peoples in the last paragraphs, if there are three tribes in Argentina, I may refer to one tribe as people and all three tribes taken together as peoples. Is that so?

Yes.

The quick answer is that people is the plural of person. Peoples is as in your example.

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zenvelo's avatar

“Peoples” is a collection of different groups of “people”. A group of 100 men would be “people”, a group of 100 men representing 100 tribes of a region would be representing “the peoples”. A reference to the collection of subsets of the “people” living in a region or represented in a collective group would be “the peoples”.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Peoples is my second most hated word, it just sounds fucking stupid, the only word I can’t stand more than peoples is monies…. wtf is monies, money is already plural – _ -

JLeslie's avatar

I never use peoples, I do use people’s. As in the People’s Choice Award or The People’s Court. People is already plural. I can see how peoples can be acceptable by the explanations above, but I wonder what is consider more proper, peoples or simply using people, in those circumstances, if people is actually incorrect? I’m sending this Jeruba, I’m curious what she says on the topic.

morphail's avatar

“Peoples” has been used to mean “nations, races” since 1382:
TelleĆ¾ in gentiles his glorie, in alle puplis his merueiles. (Wycliffite Bible)

Some people didn’t like it in the 19th century:
The singular form of the word people. In the original hebrew [sic], the word is plural. If, therefore, the delicacy of our ears be offended by the uncouth sound of peoples: let us at least..substitute the more euphonic word nations. (G. S. Faber, 1845)

gailcalled's avatar

As noted, “peoples” has a necessary and useful place in the lexicon.

Here’s another example.

“the men, women, and children of a particular nation, community, or ethnic group: the native peoples of Canada.” dictionary.com

basstrom188's avatar

why not pepes

morphail's avatar

“The desert regions yield support only to nomadic peoples, such as the Tuareg.” (Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition)

bolwerk's avatar

I think in day to day speech “people” can be thought of as an indefinitely sized group of persons. A glass of water. A box of hair. A room full of people.

Then, there is another more academic/literary meaning for people as an ethnic or political group: the English people, the German people, the Irish people, even the American people, etc. It’s actually sort of related to the above, since it says nothing about the size of the group, only that it exists and has a distinct identity.

Anyway, “peoples” would be the plural of the second definition.

glacial's avatar

I think part of the problem is that there is a distinction between “people” and “a people”. People is the plural for “person”, but “a people” is not plural at all – it is singular. Then, the plural of “a people” is “peoples”.

bolwerk's avatar

In that sense, “persons” is the plural for “person.” That more casual use of “people” isn’t really a definite noun while “persons” is.

glacial's avatar

@bolwerk Right. “People” is an indefinite noun that is the plural for person.

From the OED: “1. In sing. Used unemphatically, as a general or indefinite designation: persons unspecified as regards number, class, or identity.”

bolwerk's avatar

@glacial: Not a major nitpick, but I don’t think it can be called “plural” if it’s indefinite. The plural of person is a definite plural noun, persons. People is an indefinite number of persons, but not strictly the plural of person. The oddity as far as I can see is the ability to draw a definite number from an indefinite group (e.g., “pick 5 people”), but then people aren’t liquids.

Indefinite people (an indefinite # of persons) has a meaning distinct from definite people[s] ([a] definite group[s] of similar persons), which may lead to some confusion, especially since the latter kind of plays off the former.

morphail's avatar

@bolwerk I’m not sure what “indefinite” means here. But it’s clear to me and I think to most writers of English that “people” is the plural of “person”. It’s been the plural of “person” for about 600 years. Some usage writers in the 19th century insisted that “people” was not the plural of “person”, but they were wrong.

glacial's avatar

@bolwerk Regardless of the semantics, the word “people” cannot be referred to as singular in this context. I gave a simple explanation that I thought might be helpful to the OP. The sort of nitpicking that you are doing is exactly what makes clear interpretations impossible for non-grammarians. Great if the reader knows all the terminology, but if he doesn’t… he’s pretty much still in the dark, even if your answer is very precise.

bolwerk's avatar

@morphail: For indefinite, think of a liquid; you don’t really get more units of water like you get, say, additional grains of rice. “People” rather treats a group of persons the same way, grammatically. Yes, it’s obviously used that way in day-to-day language, and I don’t see a problem with that; at the very least, it defies rules, and doesn’t quite logically make sense as a plural for “person.”

@glacial: I don’t really think there is anything problematic about it that makes it hard to understand. As far as you can say English has official rules, as defined by educational institutions, this one just seems rather sui generis. It’s the type of thing that upsets grammar fascists, which is kind of enjoyable anyway.

morphail's avatar

@bolwerk By “indefinite” do you mean “noncount”? For instance “water” is usually a noncount noun, we don’t say “a water, 2 waters, 5 waters” etc. Instead was say “some water, a bottle of water” etc.

But “people” doesn’t behave like this. There is nothing wrong with “five people, 1000 people” etc. This is not breaking any rules that I’m aware of. Whether it logically makes sense or not is irrelevant; language is not logic.

bolwerk's avatar

@morphail: A more clear example is it’s more akin to saying a river might have a lot of water, a little water, etc.. It’s just that, with people, it’s weird and doesn’t quite fit the rules, particularly since “person” already has a more accurate plural of “persons.” Meanwhile, phrases like “some people” literally draw from an indefinite group of persons.

FWIW, though, “five people” is pretty analogous to, say, “five hairs,” where hair can be indefinite (“a head of hair”) or refer to definite strands of hair. “People” as a plural indefinite bunch doesn’t really have a neat singular form, even if you can draw single persons from it.

morphail's avatar

@bolwerk So by definite/indefinite I think you mean count/noncount. “People” is a plural count noun in sentences like “I saw 5 people” or “I saw some people.”

When you say it doesn’t fit the rules, what rules are you talking about?

bolwerk's avatar

@morphail: the grammatical term for what you’re calling count/noncount is definite/indefinite. I already listed the ways in which person/persons/people is kind of odd. Do you want me to cut and paste what I already said?

morphail's avatar

@bolwerk I’m pretty sure the grammatical terms are count/noncount or countable/uncountable. Definite/indefinite refers to articles/determiners.

I don’t really understand your explanation for why this usage is odd. “Person” is a count noun, and it has two plural forms: “persons” and “people”. Both “persons” and “people” are plural count nouns. I don’t see what the problem is.

bolwerk's avatar

@morphail: at the very least you have to admit that “persons” and “people” have different implications, and at least one of those is the indefinite nature of “people” as a single distinct group (albeit, with a plural grammatical form). It’s odd, and I can’t think of another analogous case of this off the top of my head.

glacial's avatar

@bolwerk So…. how many people are in a group of persons, exactly?

bolwerk's avatar

@glacial: how many books are on a shelf? “People” doesn’t carry an implication about distinct bodies of individuals the way “persons” does, at least not as strongly. Again, it’s weird.

glacial's avatar

@bolwerk Well, I don’t know about you, but the people in my life have distinct bodies. I think your entire semantic argument falls apart if the word persons gives you no more information about their number than the word people does. I think you are clinging to an obscure use of the word “people” that most (distinct, individual, countable) people cannot appreciate.

morphail's avatar

@bolwerk I just don’t see the distinction you’re making. “people” has been used with numbers since Chaucer, and if it’s used with numbers, then I don’t see how it refers to a single entity.

bolwerk's avatar

@glacial: well, it’s not me so much as officialdom. I didn’t make the language up, but that’s where you most commonly encounter persons instead of people. There has to be some reason for that, even if it’s subtle. My guess: maybe it more strongly implies disparity? Example: 5 concrete persons with distinct rights, say on a deed or corporate charter, than 5 people with a collective right. It’s not that I’m clinging to it, but the distinction exists. I’m not saying it should or shouldn’t.

Perhaps using persons is also more common in academia, but then I suspect that is because people is simply a less precise term.

JLeslie's avatar

I was thinking after reading more answers that people would always be used a singular verb. Always people are, not people is. While a word like tribe is singular even though it means many people. Similar to everyone is.

glacial's avatar

@JLeslie Not really… for example, from the Wikipedia page on People :

“A people is a plurality of persons considered as a whole, as in an ethnic group or nation.”

In this sense, the word people (as “a people”, as I mentioned earlier) is singular, just as tribe is.

The reason that “everyone” is treated as singular is that it is a shortened form of “every one”, and “one” is singular (just as “none” is shortened from “no one”, and therefore also treated as singular).

Brian1946's avatar

The groups of people who immersed themselves in 1980’s pop culture were known as the Nia peeples. ;-)

JLeslie's avatar

@glacial good points.

morphail's avatar

@glacial “none” can be either singular or plural. It it’s been used with plural verbs since the 1300s.

prasad's avatar

Thank you @people! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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