Possessive People

My therapist told me the other day that I need to find my people. I think she is right, and I am going to get on that, but it struck me when reading my local paper that Ray Wold, a complete stranger who comments on newspaper articles, will not be one of them.

Because of Ray Wold, I had to look up the possessive form of the word “people.” This came up when I read his comment about grammar, and I was more than usually irritated by this public grammar-correcting because I thought he was wrong. I wasn’t 100% sure, though. Here is the comment that bothered me:

So, I started to wonder, is the word people a plural of person or a collective noun similar to squad, faculty, and audience? I always thought it was the former, but that day I wondered if it was the latter.

It is complicated because there is a difference between “people” as a collection of persons and “a people” meaning a tribe or a cultural group. That seems to be the crux of the dilemma.

The Grammar Exchange says:

“If you are speaking about a group of people, large or small, you put the apostrophe after “people.” You put the apostrophe after the possessor, which in this case is “people.” So the sentence is:

I correct other people’s grammar mistakes.

However, if you are talking about a nationality of people or of a race of people, “people” here can have a plural possessor: peoples.

You might say.

Of all the native peoples in the new world, the Mayans are believed by many to have had the most advanced culture. Who were the gods of these peoples? Who were the gods of the other native peoples? Were these peoples’ gods one and the same, or did they vary from tribe to tribe?”

So, I am assured that I am right and Ray Wold is wrong, but I won’t tell him. That would be really annoying of me.


  1. Recently, I made a comment on someone’s blog after a pedantic person used word salad to correct a point of particle physics. It was clear to me that he had no clue what he was talking about. That moment when you meet someone who studied physics on CNN’s website and Wikipedia. It’s interesting how these individuals show themselves up by actually speaking.

  2. Yes, I agree he is really annoying, but the way people throw apostrophes around is also sometimes very upsetting!

  3. this is a great post and I think speaks for many people. I also learnt what peoples meant – I always wondered its context and meaning – thank you. As a non-english speaker I encounter the grammar police time to time, and in the recent years I decided it was not worth my nerves to think or react to them. One thing I do, though, asking them in French whether they know French, and often it stops them there (as you know as a Canadian resident, French is one of the two official languages in Canada, and I am surprised by how many Canadians actually do not know that beautiful language….)

    1. Thank you. I’m glad this post helps. You are quite right about Canada’s two languages. I am uni-lingual English but most people who speak French are bi-lingual, as are many immigrants to Canada. I envy people who can speak multiple languages.

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