Two Persons or More?

I grew up, as many of you, learning my plurals:  One pickle.  Two pickles.  One man.  Two men.  One mountain lion. Two mountain lions. One person.  Two people.  So it bugs me when I see road signs in the carpool lane that say, "Two Persons or more" Can you imagine your 2nd grade teacher's response to, "I want to invite six persons to my birthday party."   Do you think your boss might question your education if you suggested, "I just emailed 642 persons the details for our next business luncheon." So is it incorrect grammar to say 'persons' or just poor spelling?  Actually it's neither!  According to my research including this article, the word persons was the original plural of person.  People was a word derived from the Latin word populum meaning populace.  There is evidence that from the time of Chaucer, they began to refer to the plural of person as people and so every child now learns that he has 5 people in his family. This brings me to an important communication question.  Is it always effective to speak correctly?  My answer is no!  Let's say your purpose for this particular conversation with a friend is to persuade him of your ideas.  Using a word which may be grammatically correct ,but not popularly used, may actually distract him from what you are saying.  It may even unconsciously convince him that you are uneducated and uninformed. This is one of the reasons I say it's important to "Know Your Audience."   If you know that the persons to whom you are speaking are in the habit of using grammatically correct English despite the popular view, it would behoove you to follow suit. For more creative and fun communication tidbits, visit Art of!


  • cindy holman

    Great point! It’s often confusing isn’t it? My Dad was an English teacher so when there was a dispute in our home growing up we would always defer to him – and his response was similar to yours above – it just depends on what the people use – often times a word over time or a plural of it will be considered a “word” for dictionary use – if used enough by the culture – or generation. Interesting.

  • Laurie Neumann

    Good post, JoJo. It kind of bugs me that some of our words and way of saying things has changed. I notice that the spelling of some of our words has changed. Who decides that?

    I have also used people as the plural and will continue to. But good point about knowing your audience – that will help you to effectively COMMUNICATE with them.

  • BeckyJoie

    That “a” was not suppose to be there.LOL. I must have leaned on the key. LOL.

  • BeckyJoie

    I agree, although I do think it differentiates the personality types to have a variety of vocabulary used by a multiple persons. LOL. For instance, I find it endearing that my husband sounds like Eugene Meltzner from Adventures in Odyssey but if my teenager tried to sound that way, I’d think he was ridiculous. It doesn’t fit his personality. Language is so fun. I like that different people use it differently but it does bug me when it’s used incorrectly.

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