[ pur-suhn ]
See synonyms for: personpeoplepersons on

  1. a human being, whether an adult or child: The table seats four persons.

  2. a human being as distinguished from an animal or a thing.

  1. an individual human being who likes or prefers something specified (used in combination): I've never been a cat person.

  2. Sociology. an individual human being, especially with reference to social relationships and behavioral patterns as conditioned by the culture.

  3. Philosophy. a self-conscious or rational being.

  4. the actual self or individual personality of a human being: You ought not to generalize, but to consider the person you are dealing with.

  5. the body of a living human being, sometimes including the clothes being worn: He had no money on his person.

  6. the body in its external aspect: an attractive person to look at.

  7. a character, part, or role, as in a play or story.

  8. an individual of distinction or importance.

  9. a person not entitled to social recognition or respect.

  10. Law. a human being (natural person ) or a group of human beings, a corporation, a partnership, an estate, or other legal entity (artificial person, or juristic person ) recognized by law as having rights and duties.

  11. Grammar. a category found in many languages that is used to distinguish between the speaker of an utterance and the person or people being spoken to or about. In English there are three persons in the pronouns, the first represented by I and we, the second by you, and the third by he, she, it, and they. Most verbs have distinct third person singular forms in the present tense, as writes; the verb be has, in addition, a first person singular form am.

  12. Theology. any of the three hypostases or modes of being in the Trinity, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Idioms about person

  1. be one's own person, to be free from restrictions, control, or dictatorial influence: Now that she's working, she feels that she's her own person.

  2. in person, in one's own bodily presence; personally: Applicants are requested to apply in person.

Origin of person

First recorded in 1175–1225; Middle English persone, from Latin persōna “role” (in life, a play, or a tale) (Late Latin: “member of the Trinity”), originally “actor's mask,” from Etruscan phersu (from Greek prósōpa “face, mask”) + -na a suffix

synonym study For person

1. Person, individual, personage are terms applied to human beings. Person is the most general and common word: the average person. Individual views a person as standing alone or as a single member of a group: the characteristics of the individual; its implication is sometimes derogatory: a disagreeable individual. Personage is used (sometimes ironically) of an outstanding or illustrious person: We have a distinguished personage visiting us today.

Grammar notes for person

There is understandable confusion about the plural of this word. Is it persons or people? Person —like other regular English nouns—constructs its grammatical plural by adding -s, forming persons. This has been so since person came into Middle English in the late twelfth century. But as far back as the fourteenth century, some writers, including the poet Chaucer, were using an entirely different word— people, not persons —as the functional plural of person. And today, people seems more natural, especially in casual, informal conversation or writing.
Using people as a plural of person has not always been free of controversy. From the mid nineteenth to the late twentieth century, the use of people instead of persons was hotly contested; and among some news publications, book publishers, and writers of usage books, it was expressly forbidden. To quell the fires of the argument, some usage authorities attempted to regulate use of the two forms—recommending persons when counting a small, specific number of individuals ( Three persons were injured in the accident ) and people when referring to a large, round, or uncountable number ( More than two thousand people bought tickets on the first day; People crowded around the exhibit, blocking it from view ).
But efforts to impose such precise rules in language usually fail. This rule does not appear in currently popular style manuals, and if such a rule still exists in anyone's mind, it is mainly ignored. People is the plural form that most people are most comfortable with most of the time. Persons seems excessively formal and stilted in ordinary conversation or casual writing. One would probably not say, “How many persons came to your birthday party?” In legal or formal contexts, however, persons is often the form of choice ( The police are looking for any person or persons who may have witnessed the crime; Occupancy by more than 75 persons is prohibited by the fire marshal ). In addition, persons is often used when we pluralize person in a set phrase ( missing persons; persons of interest ). Otherwise, the modern consensus is that people is the preferred plural. Persons is not wrong, but it is increasingly rare.

usage note For person

Other words from person

  • mul·ti·per·son, adjective
  • su·per·per·son, noun

Words that may be confused with person

  • 1. individual, person (see synonym study at the current entry)
  • 2. party, person (see usage note at party)
  • 3. people, persons (see grammar note at the current entry)

Words Nearby person

Other definitions for -person (2 of 2)


  1. a combining form of person, replacing paired, gender-specific forms such as -man and -woman or -er1 and -ess: chairperson;salesperson;waitperson.

usage note For -person

The -person compounds are increasingly used, especially in the press, on radio and television, and in government and corporate communications, with the object of avoiding gender discrimination in language. Earlier practice was to use -man as the final element in such compounds regardless of the gender of the person referred to ( anchorman; businessman ) or to use -woman when referring to a woman ( anchorwoman; businesswoman ). Some object to these new -person compounds on the grounds that they are awkward or unnecessary, insisting that the equivalent compounds with -man are generic, not gender-marked. Others reject the -man compounds as discriminatory when applied to women or to people whose gender is unknown, irrelevant, or nonbinary. To resolve the argument, certain terms can be successfully shortened ( anchor; chair ). See also chairperson, -ess, lady, -man, -woman. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use person in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for person (1 of 3)


/ (ˈpɜːsən) /

nounplural persons
  1. an individual human being

  2. the body of a human being, sometimes including his or her clothing: guns hidden on his person

  1. a grammatical category into which pronouns and forms of verbs are subdivided depending on whether they refer to the speaker, the person addressed, or some other individual, thing, etc

  2. a human being or a corporation recognized in law as having certain rights and obligations

  3. philosophy a being characterized by consciousness, rationality, and a moral sense, and traditionally thought of as consisting of both a body and a mind or soul

  4. archaic a character or role; guise

  5. in person

    • actually present: the author will be there in person

    • without the help or intervention of others

Origin of person

C13: from Old French persone, from Latin persōna mask, perhaps from Etruscan phersu mask

usage For person

People is the word usually used to refer to more than one individual: there were a hundred people at the reception. Persons is rarely used, except in official English: several persons were interviewed

British Dictionary definitions for Person (2 of 3)


/ (ˈpɜːsən) /

  1. Christianity any of the three hypostases existing as distinct in the one God and constituting the Trinity. They are the First Person, the Father, the Second Person, the Son, and the Third Person, the Holy Ghost

British Dictionary definitions for -person (3 of 3)


suffix forming nouns
  1. sometimes used instead of -man and -woman or -lady: chairperson; salesperson


See -man

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for person


An inflectional form (see inflection) of pronouns and verbs that distinguishes between the person who speaks (first person), the person who is spoken to (second person), and the person who is spoken about (third person). The pronoun or verb may be singular or plural. For example:

first person singular: I walk.
second person singular: you walk.
third person singular: he/she/it walks.
first person plural: we walk.
second person plural: you walk.
third person plural: they walk.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with person


In addition to the idiom beginning with person

  • person of color

also see:

  • feel like oneself (a new person)
  • in person
  • own person, one's

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.