When writing, some people might get a bit confused about where to put the apostrophe. This is particularly true when we have the word “peoples”. Many wonder whether it should be “peoples'” or”People’s”.
If we’re talking about more than one person, we would say “people’s”. However, if we’re talking about a particular ethnic or national group, we would say “peoples'”. For example we would say “Princess Diana was the people’s princess”. But we would say “I love all the African peoples’ cultures”.
In this article, I want to talk about what the rules of the apostrophe are, where the word “people” even comes from, and I want to explore what exactly a “person” is.
I hope all peoples’ enjoy this article.
The Apostrophe Rule
Let me start off by giving you a reminder of what your English teacher tried to explain to you when you were busy throwing aeroplanes at the back of the class.
There are two places you will use an apostrophe. The first one being abbreviations. When you want to make two words into one word, For example, instead of saying “you are”, you can shorten it to simply “you’re”.
One word that has caused controversy is “y’all”, an abbreviation of “you” and “all”.
The other rule is when showing possession. For example, if Sally owns a cat, you would say “Sally’s cat”.
When a word ends in S, you would put the apostrophe after the S at the end. For example, if Gus owns a cat, it would be Gus’ cat.
The word “People” has an etymology that most of us won’t know about. Even though knowing where words come from won’t be a matter of life and death, it’s still useful to understand why we speak the way we do.
Our word “people” came from the Ango-French “peple”. That word came from the Old French “Peupel”, meaning mankind.
And that word came from the Latin “populous” meaning body of citizens. Today, the term “populous” is still used in politics.
Most of the time, we should be using “people’s”.
The object of this sentence is owned by a group of people. Although people are a group, when we say “people’s”, we are treating all of them as a single entity.
A great example would be Princess Diana, who was described as the “people’s princess”. She was a princess who was “owned” by the general public. If we were to describe her as the “peoples’ princess”, that wouldn’t make sense as she was seen as the princess of all people, not just one ethnicity.
Although unlikely, you may see the word “peoples'” being used correctly. This is when we’re talking about ethnic or national groups.
For example, I might say “Despite what the racists think, this is all the peoples’ planet”.
The apostrophe should not be used when talking about the plural. However, as we mentioned earlier, words that end in S should have the apostrophe put after the S when showing possession.
When we say the “peoples’ planet”, we’re saying that the Earth belongs to people of many different ethnic and national groups.
Are all humans people?
Some would argue that “people” and “humans” are not the same thing.
“Human” is a scientific word, and “people” is a philosophical one. Anyone with human DNA is human. However, there are different criteria to be a “person”.
For example, some would argue that to be a person, you need to have free will, cognitive ability, and other factors.
Even people who agree that people and humans are not the same thing will often disagree on what it is that separates the two. Some people would even argue that monkeys are people, but newborn babies aren’t.
On the other side of that argument, some would argue that if you are a human, you are automatically a person.
They would argue that once we start deciding who is or isn’t a person, that can take us down a very dark path. For example, during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, people would have said that slaves were not people, despite being human. The same would be said about Jews during the Holocaust.
The only way to avoid these kinds of evils is to recognise that all humans are people. If you have human DNA, congratulations, you’re a person.
People vs Persons
An alternative to “people” is “persons”.
If we used this word, Lady Diana would have been known as the “persons’ princess”.
But we rarely use the word “persons”. Why is this?
Firstly, you can. It would not be grammatically incorrect to say “persons”. However, many would see such a word as being old fashioned and too formal. So there is not much point in using it.
However, there are some situations where “persons” is more common than “people”.
When we’re treating groups as a collection of individuals, it’s more common to say “persons”, for example, “I like all four persons I met last night”.
However, when treating groups as single entities, we would be more likely to say “people”.
Why is “People’s” so popular?
The word “people’s” has found its way in our language a lot. The best example I can think of is the one I gave earlier where Dianna was described as the “people’s princess”.
Donald Trump likes to think of himself as the “people’s president”.
Why are so many people keen to be the “people’s person”?
Firstly, it makes you sound relatable. You’re not some toff who spends all his time in his own bubble. You get out there, and you talk to hard-working people who have been through some stuff in life.
At the end of the day, we’re all just people. So having a “man of the people” is to have someone who looks out for people like you.
Should we be saying “people’s” or “peoples'”?
When talking about the plural of person, we say “people’s”. Lady Dianna was the “people’s princess”.
But when talking about ethnic or national groups, we would say “peoples'”. “The European peoples’ are incredibly diverse”.
If you’re in any doubt, just remember “possessive not plural” with the apostrophe. And if it’s both, it goes after the S not before!