Posted by: Jack Henry | June 9, 2015

Editor’s Corner: People vs. persons

Good morning, people!

Or, is that persons? According to Grammar Girl (Mignon Fogarty), an article on the Grammarist website, and the cringe I get when I hear persons, people is generally the right choice.

We traditionally used people to refer to a mass of persons or an uncountable group. Or, as Merriam-Webster says, “human beings not individually known or considered as individuals.” For example:

· Even though the weather was mediocre, the ocean was filled with people on Memorial Day.

· Screaming people filtered down to the field after the home team won.

The word persons was customarily the plural of person and indicated a countable number of individuals. For example:

· Three persons brought blenders as gifts to Tina and George’s wedding.

· Despite the warning, 20 persons stood on the balcony that was built for 15.

Now, people is used most often as the plural of person, and persons is considered archaic. Before you start composing an email to argue with me about this, I know that persons is still pretty common out there in some fields. Of course, our goal in technical communication is to be clear and concise. The fields where you still find the word persons are places like government and law—not exactly fields renowned for their straightforward language.

I did a search of Episys eDocs for persons and found quite a few examples:

· persons and companies

· persons subject to child support laws

· Specifically Designated Nations and Blocked Persons list

· natural persons (as opposed to credit unions)

Not surprisingly, most of this language is from government regulations and compliance.

So go forth and refer to the people. Our Founding Fathers did, and it sure sounds more pleasing to the ear than “We the Persons…”

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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