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#62485 03/27/02 11:31 AM
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It occurred to me this morning that in common usage (and the way the word is taught to little children), the plural of person is people, even though the words persons is used in slightly different contexts, and, to make things more complicated, people can be singular.

Examples:
(a) I almost hit a person who was crossing Empire Avenue today.
(b) I almost hit some people who were crossing Empire Avenue today.
(c) I almost hit some persons who were crossing Empire Avenue today.

I would never use (c). But is it technically correct? (Even if it is, it sure is ugly.)

You do hear in news reports things like:
(d) A person or persons entered the building under cover of darkness and made off with an undisclosed amount of money.
Why this stiff phrasing?

And from government, things like:
(e) We Canadians are a peaceful people.
Which is singular.

What's up with these two words? Why aren't they completely interchangeable?


#62486 03/27/02 12:02 PM
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in common usage, the plural of person is people

Good question. Is the plural of client clientele? Is the plural of building city?


#62487 03/27/02 01:02 PM
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Is the plural of building city?

C'mon Faldage, play fair. Would you really use (c) in everyday speech? I wouldn't, but can't come up with a good reason why not.


#62488 03/27/02 01:02 PM
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I don't think the plural of person is people. I haven't checked my dictionary, but, shooting from the hip, I expect to find the plural of person to be persons.

But this is still an interesting point of grammar. Would the word people ever take a singular verb? I can't think of an instance when people would take a singular verb--it sounds very grating on my ear in the few sentences I just constructed in my head. Collective nouns have always raised so many interesting problems in my mind, at least.

Best regards,
WordWethePeople


#62489 03/27/02 01:04 PM
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Would the word people ever take a singular verb?

Well, that's just the problem. We tend to use a singular article at times, like in (e) above, but the verb bit ("we are") is still plural. Is that not the strangest thing?


#62490 03/27/02 01:47 PM
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Would [I] really use (c) in everyday speech?

I doubt it. My question regarding clientele is to the point, however. It was offered as an answer to a question about irregular plurals but I don't feel that clientele is the plural of client any more than city is the plural of building. Clientele is a group noun that refers to a specific bunch of clients. The matter isn't quite as clear cut with people/persons. Sometimes what sounds funny to us is just a usage we don't use very much. It might be logically correct but that doesn't necessarily make it good colloquial usage. Whether a group noun takes a singular or plural verb is a question of grammar by form vs. grammar by meaning. In this case it seems to be an USn vs. the rest of the (English speaking) world with y'all Canadians an unknown to me on this issue. Prominent in this dispute are such words as team (and the specific names of teams, e.g., Arsenal are expected to ... vs. Duke is expected to ...) and company (and the names of specific companies).


#62491 03/27/02 03:35 PM
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Regarding what Canadians do for collective nouns - the CBC has an article about this on their website which attempts to clarify the style they follow: http://cbc.ca/news/indepth/words/plurals.html

I looked up "person" and "people" in Atomica, and the one thing which stood out from their usage notes was that people is plural, and has no corresponding singular. However, in common usage in some situations (as in (a) and (b) above), it behaves as though "person" is its corresponding singular form.

But I distinctly remember being taught by various "authorities" (whoever takes it upon themselves to correct a child's speech) that "The plural of person is people". And in most uses a child encounters, it does work out that way.


#62492 03/27/02 03:50 PM
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"The plural of person is people"

God in three People, blessed Trinity.


#62493 03/27/02 04:50 PM
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Taking the Faldage example:

Arsenal IS a team. That is a good three word statement. The sentence would not read: Arsenal ARE a team.


#62494 03/27/02 05:57 PM
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"The plural of person is people"

God in three People, blessed Trinity

I was taught : God in three Persons - the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost (changed to Holy Spirit recently.)
OED - in a lot of definitions regarding person, says person denotes "rank or character" and also says "an individual of high rank, distinction or importance."

Guess God would qualify under the OED interpretation.


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