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“People” and “persons”. [Nov. 22nd, 2006|11:50 am]
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Under what circumstances would you use the word “persons” rather than the word “people”?

Only if someone made me.
Other, will explain in a comment.

If commenting is too much faff, you can just explain here:


[User Picture]From: karen2205
2006-11-22 12:01 pm (UTC)
By 'somebody made me' I mean 'somebody wrote a document in a silly way and I have to reply to it' and in context the word 'persons' makes more sense/it's not possible to reword it into 'people' without losing the sense of the phrase.
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[User Picture]From: aca
2006-11-22 12:05 pm (UTC)
I've always had it in my head that persons would be a specific list of individuals, people more referes to a group or category.

Then there's peoples, of course, just to really add to the fun.
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[User Picture]From: aca
2006-11-22 12:10 pm (UTC)
It seems chaucer went with people, the victorians reintroduced persons, we can get away with either depending on context:

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From: catsgomiaow
2006-11-22 12:06 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I just use it for comedy/quaint effect, e.g. "Persons Unknown have made off with my ruler again, give it back you bastards!" etc. I'm actually not too sure about the correctness or not of this, but meh to it all says I.
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[User Picture]From: yady
2006-11-22 12:10 pm (UTC)
I use 'persons' rarely, but occasionally it seems to make more sense - when I am referring to a small number of specific (but not necessarily specified) *separate* persons. A group always consists of people rather than persons, but in cases like 'The characters in this story are not based on real persons', or 'no two persons may be in the elevator at the same time' I might use persons.
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[User Picture]From: glassstrider
2006-11-22 12:13 pm (UTC)
I would if I was feeling particularly anachronistic, but that's just me. I would also possibly use it to describe a group, who I did not wish to refer to as "people", because I was feeling disparaging; "persons" seems less personal as a plural than "people".

I'm not sure if either of these are really useful, or just me writing strange.
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[User Picture]From: therealdrhyde
2006-11-23 12:09 pm (UTC)
I find that referring to chavs at creatures and not people works just fine.
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[User Picture]From: truecatachresis
2006-11-22 12:57 pm (UTC)
If it had an aesthetic appeal, i.e. whenever a whim might take me, or when an unknown number may be as low as one, e.g. "person or persons unknown", or if "people" were already being used in its other meaning (or indeed this meaning but for another group) in the discussion at hand, to avoid ambiguity, e.g. "the people of Britain recognised several persons of particular import in their history" or "there were a lot of people involved in the disturbance, but only a few select persons among them were truly responsible for the ensuing riot".

(That last example is not particularly aesthetically pleasing, but it's off the top of my head as a demonstration.)
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[User Picture]From: gfrancie
2006-11-22 03:48 pm (UTC)
I know they use that word on Law and Order now and then. Kind of a legal/police thing.
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[User Picture]From: emmacrew
2006-11-23 01:25 am (UTC)
Yes, my main example was "department of missing persons."

But I also think a construction "travellers should carry their passports on their persons at all times when visiting XYZ" would be a situation where I'd use it.
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[User Picture]From: therealdrhyde
2006-11-23 12:11 pm (UTC)
I'd say "with them" instead of "on their persons". The latter is overly complicated, and smacks of ill-educated officialdom trying to sound bigger and cleverer than they really are.
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[User Picture]From: non_trivial
2006-11-22 04:23 pm (UTC)
In my mental scheme, persons can be singular or plural, whereas people are always plural. I'd only ever really use persons in a legal sense, or for specific (somewhat archaic) effect.
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From: vyvyan
2006-11-22 05:57 pm (UTC)
I might use it in special contexts where it is traditionally used e.g. "God in three persons". Also for grammatical terminology e.g. "English distinguishes three persons in its pronoun system, and two numbers".
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From: mstevens
2006-11-22 09:05 pm (UTC)
"Person or persons unknown" is a phrase that sounds right that comes into my head.

Mainly I'd go for "people", though.
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[User Picture]From: hairyears
2006-11-23 12:37 am (UTC)
'Persons' has a legalistic Victorian sound to it. I doubt that I would have cause to write that way except in jest.
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[User Picture]From: zonereyrie
2006-11-23 03:24 am (UTC)
There are some phrases where I'd use persons - missing persons, persons unknown, persons of interest, etc.
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[User Picture]From: pne
2006-11-27 02:16 pm (UTC)
Much the same here.

And also with the "small number of specific (but not necessarily specified) people" sense.
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[User Picture]From: selki
2007-03-04 04:10 am (UTC)
In addition to the referring-to-specific-persons rather than generic-people sense, I also might use "persons" if something about physicality was implied. The jewels were not found on the suspects' persons, for instance.
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