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Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing
What is the difference between people and peoples?
Monday June 16th 2014
Question
What is the difference between people and peoples?  — Mauro, Peru
Answer

Thank you for a great question!

The word people has several different meanings. The first meaning is simply the plural of person – in other words, two or more human beings. Here are two example sentences with this meaning:

  1. We met all sorts of people on the trip. (people=more than one person, in this case, probably many)
  2. My neighbors are nice people. (people=more than one person, in this case, probably just a few)

However, people can also mean “all or most humans,” or “all humans of a particular type,” as in these examples:

  1. He doesn't care what people think of him. (people=all people)
  2. Young people carry their mobile phones everywhere. (young people=all or nearly all young people)

Finally, a third meaning of people is “a group of people who belong to the same culture, ethnicity, nation, or race.” Here’s the confusing part: When more than one such group is being referred to, people becomes peoples.

Here are some examples:

  1. To travel on the ice, hunt, and stay warm, the Inuit people developed a unique way of life. (the Inuit people=the people who belong to the ethnic group known as “Inuit”)
  2. In 1991, Australia began a formal process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples. (peoples=different groups with different languages, cultures, etc.)

In sum, the only time you will want to use the word “peoples” is when you are referring to groups of people from multiple ethnic, cultural, racial, or national backgrounds.

 

I hope this helps.

 

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