Saturday, September 15, 2012

People vs. Persons: Group vs. Individuals

Wow! Thanks to Rob, Lindsay, Cameron, Lila and everyone else who sent in photos for yesterday's flash assignment:
In an elevator, there is often a sign stipulating the maximum number of individuals allowed inside. Does it say persons or people? (Bonus points to anyone who can send me a photo of such a sign! Get your cameras ready!)
As seen in Lila's photo, above, the signage in elevators customarily says persons instead of people. That's a holdover from the days when persons was used to specify a number of individuals. It would also be acceptable to say '18 people.'

Quick rules:
  • Use people to convey the collective sense of a group. There are a lot of people in the auditorium.
  • When specifying a number of individuals, it is sometimes customary to use persons.
  • In legal settings, persons is regularly used instead of 'individuals'.