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!


  • free trial

    Nice article. Thank you for this info

  • Laura

    Funny, this very thing came up today in a discussion!
    I think you are right on! Knowing where your audience is, where they are coming from can change how you communicate to them. It shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach. If you communicate the same with each person some of your message will be misinterpreted or missed.

Leave a comment