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Some time ago I was told that use of the expression bunch of people is incorrect. Apparently, bunch should not be used along with people meaning group of people.

But the problem is that I can hear that expression from lots of people, especially non-native English speakers.

Can you please explain whether bunch of people is correct or not and why?

  • If someone says bunch of peoples is it wrong? I'm thinking we should not use peoples like that. – user6212 May 4 '14 at 22:26
  • @birsh - Normally, yes, avoid that phrasing. I suppose there could be a few special circumstances, however, like: My favorite day of the Olympics is the opening ceremonies. You can see Kenyans, Chinese, Estonians, Argentinians, Haitians – a bunch of peoples all marching together. – J.R. May 4 '14 at 22:51
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I'm a native speaker of English, and bunch of people does not sound wrong to me, nor do I suspect, to most native speakers (academics excluded; see below). The Corpus of Contemporary American English reports it used about a fifth as often as "group of people", which is certainly somewhat promising as far as it being "correct".

But I can't really say whether or not it is correct without knowing why the person who told you it's incorrect said that. It might be that it's considered rude to think of people as a bunch—I disagree, but if that's the case, whether it's right or wrong is going to depend on your specific audience.

Just in case, though, I checked the OED since it is far more knowledgeable than me, and interestingly enough, this seems to be of relevance:

3. A collection or cluster of things of the same kind, either growing together (as a bunch of grapes), or fastened closely together in any way (as a bunch of flowers, a bunch of keys); also a portion of a dress gathered together in irregular folds.

4. fig. A collection, ‘lot’. Also, a company or group of persons.

Definition 3 is the one that we're usually dealing with, and it seems to fairly clearly imply that bunch of people doesn't work, since people don't grow together (twins, triplets, etc. excepted) and usually aren't fastened together.

Definition 4 seems like it would work, but every usage it cites has bunch in isolation; it was never used in the form bunch of people.

I didn't see any other relevant definitions, so bunch of people may not be formally correct after all; either way, group of people is much more common and appears to be uncontroversial in usage.

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  • Person who advised not to use that expression was my English teacher (non-native English speaker). I guess, by saying "incorrect", she meant "informal" or something similar. So I never had a chance to clarify that until now. Many thanks for your help. – Tom Jan 24 '13 at 10:41
  • So according to Oxford: 'bunch of people' is tautological. It essentially means a group of people of people. – mcalex Jan 24 '13 at 16:36
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    @mcalex: No, "a bunch of sticks" is just a pile of sticks. "My bunch" will be a group of my friends, "the rowdy bunch" will be a group of noisy, obnoxious people. Interestingly, "A bunch of people" is not really a group as such! It's many unrelated or loosely related people in one place, a small crowd. – SF. Jan 24 '13 at 17:11
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Yes, the phrase bunch of people is not wrong; in fact it's very right. The phrase is very popular in its informal use. However, phrases such as a group of people or a crowd of people are preferred in formal meetings.

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    +1. I might invite a bunch of people out for lunch or have meetings with a bunch of people. But I would never write "bunch of people" on a document. – Matt Feb 10 '13 at 21:40
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There is one time when you can use the term “bunch” when referring to a collection of people. That would be if you say something on the lines of :

My brother and his bunch are crazy about football.

Any other circumstance will have you using terms like array, collection, group, etc.

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A bunch of people is informal phrase for many people - not organized as a group.

Examples of use:

  • You come to work late by two hours, and a co-worker informs you "A bunch of people called asking about you. It seems there's some kind of emergency." - They were not an organized group, he simply received a number of questions over the phone and in person.
  • You organize a party. "If the room is not big enough, a bunch of people will fit in the garden" - it's less than "a lot" and definitely less official than "many" which would sound somewhat stiff in this context.
  • At a shop: We had a bunch of customers in the morning but later the tide subsided a little. - there were lots of customers.

Note this will not hold with other contexts of bunch in relation to people. "My bunch" will be my group of friends. "They are a funny bunch" - they may or may not be a group, but they are fun. Also, these bunches will be usually smaller than the "bunch of people" mentioned earlier - five friends will be a bunch, but five customers waiting for the shop to open, not really.

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Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English has bunch as group of people, informal in no. 2: a friendly bunch of people. I think it can be used in a negative sense in certain contexts.

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