Need help in English grammar
Thread poster: wonita (X)

wonita (X)
Local time: 15:15
Mar 25, 2009

“Person“ vs. “People“
The grammar rule I learned at school is: „person “exists only in singular form, the plural form of ”person “is “people”. For example, instead of saying “five persons”, we should say “five people”.

“Once” vs.”one time”
I vaguely remember that my grammar rule has only “once”, “twice” and then “three times”, “four times” and so on. “One time”, “two times” should be replaced by "once" and "twice".

However, on different internet forums I find phrases like “2 persons”, “two times” etc. on posts made by native English speakers. Can anybody tell me if I had learned the wrong grammar or the English language has adopted new rules?

Thank you!


Paul Adie  Identity Verified
Spanish to English
+ ...
Help. Mar 25, 2009

The plural of 'person' is usually 'people'. If the context is formal or legal, the plural 'persons' is usually used.

With regard to 'once', 'twice', I consider them to be synonyms of 'one time', 'two times', but I suppose that 'one time, two times' is more colloquial. I do not know if there are any 'rules' regarding this case.

As with everything in English, you'll find these 'rules' differ according to country of origin, education of the speaker/writer, context, idioms...

Happy translating!



K Donnelly  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:15
Italian to English
+ ...
Article Mar 25, 2009

You might find the following article on the use of people versus persons helpful:



Jennifer Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:15
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
American English? Mar 25, 2009

In UK English we usually say "twice" but I believe that "two times" is now more usual in America. Once upon a time, "thrice" was used for "three times", but is now archaic and found mostly in fairy tales!
"People" is usual in most contexts. To me, "persons" sounds somewhat stilted and unnatural - more likely to be used in official notices, legalese, and so on, certainly not in conversation and relatively informal writing.
Best wishes,


Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:15
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
American English - twice Mar 25, 2009

Jenny Forbes wrote:

In UK English we usually say "twice" but I believe that "two times" is now more usual in America.

I think most educated Americans would say "twice," although of course you can find anything on the Internet.


James McVay  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:15
Russian to English
+ ...
Mostly agree Mar 25, 2009

This question illustrates the misleading aspect of rules in English -- especially when English is taught as in a classroom as a foreign language. I personally don't think there is a grammar rule governing the usages described. In my opinion, it's a matter of style.

"Persons" sounds more formal and more likely to be encountered in legal documents: laws, regulations, contracts, etc. But then lawyers speak their own language, a mixture of Latin, archaic English, and obfuscation.icon_wink.gif

"Once" and "twice" strike my American ear as being more economical than "one time" and "two times," but there are times when only the long form will do. Example: "two times two equals four." There was a time when "twice two equals four" was common. That's no longer true -- at least in US English -- except in formal written texts. Other than that, however, I don't think Americans prefer "one time" and "two times" over "once" and "twice."

In cases like this, I like to google the various wordings as a quick poll on common usage. Try it, and you'll see some interesting hits. Look here, for example:


chica nueva
Local time: 07:15
Chinese to English
persons vs people, interesting question; grammar rules and usage Mar 26, 2009

Hello Bin Tiede

Here are a few references. You will see that the dictionaries use 'persons' in their definitions.

Two recommended grammars for teachers (when I trained), are Alexander, 'Longman English Grammar', and 'Swan' (that is Michael Swan) if I remember rightly (not sure of the title).


1 We do not often use the plural of person ('persons'). We normally use people (a plural word):
eg He's a nice person. but They are nice people.
Many people don't have enough to eat. (not 'doesn't have')
(Murphy R., "English Grammar in Use - A self-study reference and practice book for intermediate students", Cambridge University Press, 1985, 1994)

2 people = 1. all the persons of a racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural group, etc. 2. the persons belonging to a certain place, community or class [people of wealth] 3. the persons under the leadership or control of a particular person or body 4. the members of (someone's) class, occupation, set, race, etc. [the miner spoke for his people] 5. one's relatives or ancestors; family 6. persons without wealth, privilege, etc.; populace 7. the electorate of a country, etc. 8. persons considered indefinitely [what will people say?] 9. human beings 10. a group of creatures [the ant people] (Collins Concise Dictionary 1978)

3 people (plural noun) = 1 men, women and children 2 used to refer to persons in general or everyone, or informally to the group of people that you are speaking to 3 men and women who are involved in a particular type of work 4 the people = the large number of ordinary men and women who do not have positions of power in society 5 infml sb's people the people to whom someone is related
people (group noun) = 1 all the men, women and children who live in a particular country 2 a society (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, 2003)

[Now, regarding 'people', how to match the Chinese terms interests me. Which is 'renmin 人民', 'minzu 民族', 'renmen 人们', 'renjia 人家', 'laobaixing 老百姓', 'renlei 人类', '大家 dajia', '人 ren' and so on ... ? (but that's a discussion for another Forum ...) ]

As to 'grammar rules' and 'usage', well IMO they are two different things. The grammars and dictionaries are like a map based on usages which gradually change over time. In addition, written and spoken language are two different things, we are taught - so I suppose what we are getting now with texting and on the Net, is a variety of Englishes written 'as she is spoke', in various contexts, registers etc, both formal and informal/colloquial, and also regional.

[Edited at 2009-03-26 02:43 GMT]


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