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Tish Davidson
12-01-2006, 09:18 AM
Grammarians please help.

I've been doing a lot of medical editing lately and I am confused with the correct use of people and persons. Writers I am editing seem equally confused, as I see both used as in the example below with equal frequency.

People with tuberculosis often show the following symptoms: (list)

Persons with tuberculosis often show the following symptoms: (list)

I don't know which is correct, so I usually suggest "Individuals with tuberculosis often show the following symptoms: (list)"

I also see

Persons should purchase their tickets by Monday.

People should purchase their tickets by Monday.

And

Four persons were sitting at the bar.

Four people were sitting at the bar.

(Somehow "Four individuals were sitting at the bar just doesn't work." unless you are saying something like Four individuals and two Siamese twins were sitting at the bar.)

Silver King
12-01-2006, 09:53 AM
I'll tread lightly, Tish, because I've learned so much from you that it seems impossible I could offer anything in return.

For the sake of argument, doesn't "people" sound like a greater quantity than "persons?"

As for the medical question, you can use "patients" in place of "people" and "persons."

Also, I frequent bars a lot, and we're never considered "persons," but rather "people" (or drunks, as the case may be).:)

veronie
12-01-2006, 04:44 PM
I'll go to my hero on this one -- Bill Walsh in "Elephants of Style.":


Some people insist that "persons" is the correct plural of person when a definite number is involved. They reserve "people" for fuzzier references:

"Of all the people in this room, I could think of two persons who could beat me up."

The spoken word isn't always a good test of correct usage, but i would take a cue from conversational language here. Have you ever known anyone stiff enough to use the word "persons" in conversation?

Tish Davidson
12-03-2006, 11:35 AM
I'll tread lightly, Tish, because I've learned so much from you that it seems impossible I could offer anything in return.

For the sake of argument, doesn't "people" sound like a greater quantity than "persons?"

As for the medical question, you can use "patients" in place of "people" and "persons."

Also, I frequent bars a lot, and we're never considered "persons," but rather "people" (or drunks, as the case may be).:)


In medical writing, I have been taught that "patients" refers specifically to those under the care of a medical professional. Thus patients may be appropriate with in referring to people with tuberculosis or cancer, but not necessarily appropriate in referring to those with a sprained ankle or sunburn.

Judg
12-14-2006, 12:54 AM
"Persons" tends to sound more bureaucratic than "people". It's a question of style more than anything else. In a medical or police report, the use of "persons" is entirely appropriate.