I have got 3 questions about "person" and "persons" (all of them belong to each other)

  1. Why is it always taught that the word "person" has not plural form while it is actually has? (I saw many sources that say that the plural form of person is people while it is persons). Indeed it is formal use as Cambridge dictionary says, but it is still it is not mistake as it is taught.

  2. In Merriam Webster dictionary for learners I saw that the plural form of person is used in context of law. But it is not clear to me if according this dictionary it is supposed to be used the same as the word people in context of law, or it is used differently. The examples that it beings are not clear for the purpose of the understanding the plural form "persons". Here is what it says:

Persons: (law) plural persons : the body or clothing of a person especially when considered as a place to hide things He was arrested for having a gun on his person without a permit.

  • "He was arrested for carrying a gun on his person without having a gun permit."

  • "The dogs discovered that the men were hiding drugs about their persons." The examples are very difficult to understand.

  1. Is the plural form of "person" (persons) is used in other context apart from law?

2 Answers 2



Why is it always taught that the word "person" has not plural form while it is actually has?

A language teacher or a pedagogist may be able to provide a better answer, but I remember from my own days learning French that we would sometimes be taught things which I would later discover to be simplifications or generalisations and in many ways untrue.

I assume that teachers make the judgement that whatever confusion is generated by teaching things that are not strictly true is outweighed by the benefits of getting the basic principles across and avoiding unnecessary complexity that might cause even worse confusion.

2. In legal and bureaucratic documents "persons" is the usual plural in all meanings. In a lift or elevator, you will often see a safety notice advising that it is fit to carry a "maximum of 5 persons" (or whatever).

"Persons" is also the plural of a specific sense of the word "person". This sense is the one used in phrases such as "carrying a weapon on one's person". This sense is always pluralised as "persons", even when found in non-legal and non-official contexts (though its plural is relatively rarely needed outside of such contexts). "Person" here means your body or the clothing you are wearing or bags you are carrying. ("On/about your person" formal "in a pocket, bag, or something else that you are holding".)

"Persons" is also the plural of the specialised grammatical term ("the first and third persons" - not "the first and third people"!).

As for the general rule, Oxford Dictionaries says:

The words people and persons can both be used as the plural of person, but they have slightly different connotations. People is by far the commoner of the two words and is used in most ordinary contexts: a group of people; there were only about ten people; several thousand people have been rehoused. Persons, on the other hand, tends now to be restricted to official or formal contexts, as in this vehicle is authorized to carry twenty persons; no persons admitted without a pass.

Cambridge says:

Persons (plural) is a very formal word. We only use it in rather legalistic contexts: [notice in a lift] Any person or persons found in possession of illegal substances will be prosecuted.


The legal use of persons is typically used as part of the phrase "on his/her person." Essentially it's a fancy way of saying "with oneself."

In legal contexts, many words are often used differently than normal everyday English (e.g. convey, conversion, plea/plead, try have different or special meanings.)

Outside of the phrase on X's person, people is the plural form and should be used.

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