In the question Turn “Notify the persons before 30 days” into a question, user @Matt makes the point:

"persons" is not the correct plural of "person". You probably want to use the word "people" or the singular "person".

In his context, he is correct. However, there are times that "persons" is okay. Is there a way to explain this in ELL-friendly terms?

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    You might want to check out the answers to a similar question here: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/1340/persons-versus-individuals – WendiKidd Feb 12 '13 at 16:45
  • I don't think this is a duplicate question. Even though, as was pointed out, the answer to my question happens to be largely contained within the answer to another question, the questions themselves are entirely distinct. – Ken Bellows Feb 14 '13 at 14:39

Traditionally, persons was the correct plural of person, but people has become widely accepted as such. One rule that is sometimes used is to use persons if the number of people is countable and people otherwise. However, this is generally only used in formal and legal contexts. In colloquial use, people is usually preferred.

This Ngram shows the relative frequency of use in published works over time. I think it is interesting how people surpassed persons around 1940, and the use of persons appears to be rapidly declining:


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    +1. If in doubt learners should always prefer the word "people". In colloquial use, persons can always be replaced with people without loss of meaning. – Matt Feb 12 '13 at 19:08

It is a complicated question, even among native speakers, and by far the best explanation I have found is here.

Let us know if you have any follow-up questions, and I look forward to what others have to say.

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    Link rot is a fact of life on the internet. Could you please add a summary of the information at that link? – Martha Feb 13 '13 at 2:24

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