Word Choice – People Versus Peoples

Arun’s question: “I have noticed that sometimes the word ‘peoples’ is used instead of ‘people.’  What is the difference?  I always thought that ‘people’ is plural.”

BizWritingTip response: As long as I am answering this question, we might as well start with the word “person.” A person is an individual human being. It comes from the Latin word persona meaning a character in a play. It can also be written as a plural word when you are referring to a specific, countable number of individuals.

Examples (correct)

Who was the first person to arrive?
There were six persons in the meeting.

However, most style books recommend using the term people when you have more than one person. It sounds more natural. The word people comes from the Latin word populum, referring to the general population. It always takes a plural verb.

Example (correct)

How many people have signed up for the conference?
The plural form “peoples” refers to multiple groups of people with each group sharing a common culture.

Example (correct)

Always capitalize the names of religions, races, languages, and peoples.
She wants to study the Aboriginal peoples of the Americas.