Have you ever been in the middle of writing an essay and you realise you have used the word “people” too much? If so, then you have probably tried to find some synonyms for people. However, this is not always as easy as it seems.

In this article, I will tell you some synonyms for people but also give you lots of warnings about common problems.

What’s the Problem with People?

First of all, let’s address the main issue. Is there anything wrong with saying “people” in an IELTS essay? No, it’s a perfectly fine word to use.

A problem arises, however, when you use this word too often. For example:

  • Many people think that people spend too much time on their computers, but other people disagree with this.

In this sentence, we have the word “people” used three times! That is very repetitive and so we really should avoid it.

There are different ways to avoid repetition, which you can read about here, but the one we’ll look at today is synonyms.

Common Synonyms for People

If you use a thesaurus and type in “people,” you will undoubtedly find a lot of synonyms. Here’s a list from Thesaurus.com, which is a pretty useful resource.


It should go without saying that you cannot just take any synonym from this list and use it to replace the word “people.”

Let’s see what would happen if we took our previous example and did that:

  • Many people think that citizens spend too much time on their computers, but other humans disagree with this.

This is now a terrible sentence! 😨 Unfortunately, though, this is really common IELTS language and it is a big problem! I deliberately overlooked the silliest words on that list and the ones that grammatically were impossible:

  • community
  • family
  • bodies
  • bourgeois
  • heads
  • herds
  • hoi polloi
  • kin
  • mortals

In fact, almost all of these words are ridiculous and could not replace “people” in most sentences!

What’s the Problem with People Synonyms?

You can see from the above list that there are loads of words that basically mean people. A family is a bunch of people, right? And a community is comprised of people (most of the time). We occasionally could refer to people as “bodies” and “crowds” and even the “bourgeois”!

However, these words all have specific meanings and connotations. The word “people” is general and is typically the best choice.

Let’s look at some words that IELTS candidates often try to use, but which are usually incorrect:

Synonym for PeopleWhy is it Wrong?
CitizenThis refers to people specifically as residents of a place. It does not refer to people in general.
FolkThis is actually a good word but it is quite informal and can sound a little strange out of certain contexts.
GenerationThis refers to a group of people by their approximate age. It does not refer to individual people.
HumansThis is quite scientific. If you say “humans” then it might sound as though you are not a human! It can be used correctly, but be very careful with it.
IndividualsThis refers to people as individuals and is not a replacement for people. It can occasionally be used as such, but only when stressing their individuality.
PopulationThis is a group of people in a particular place. It refers to them by where they live and, although it can sometimes be a good synonym, it is easily misused.
PublicThis can refer to a group of people but it does have a specific meaning and cannot always replace people.

In short, these words can be used but are frequently misused but IELTS candidates who are eager to avoid saying “people.”

Visual Lessons

I make visual lessons on Twitter and Facebook and I will share some of the ones related to “people” synonym problems here.

The first is mostly about the word “individual,” which is commonly misused.

The next is about the misuse of “population.”

How to Choose a Good Synonym for People

If you are talking generally about people, then just say “people”! You don’t always need a synonym. Remember that you can also use pronouns and omission if you want to avoid repetition.

If you really do need a synonym, then choose a word according to its precise meaning, taking into consideration connotation and grammar.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • People continue to produce a vast amount of waste, which is badly damaging the planet.

I would replace “people” with “humans” because we are talking about people as a species. This means it is ok to use a more scientific term:

  • Humans continue to produce a vast amount of waste, which is badly damaging the planet.

Here’s another:

  • People living in urban areas tend to suffer more from respiratory illnesses.

For this we could use words like “population” and “citizen” and “resident,” as long as we change the grammar to fit:

  • Residents of urban areas tend to suffer more from respiratory illnesses.
  • Urban populations tend to suffer more from respiratory illnesses.
  • In big cities, the citizens tend to suffer more from respiratory illnesses.

(Note that “populations” is used to refer to more than one population. It does not mean each person individually.)

It is also fine to use “individuals” when we are emphasising people as distinct entities rather than a group:

  • In order to prove his theory, the researcher contacted fifteen individuals with the condition and asked them for permission to look into their medical history.

Here, it is clear that we are not just talking about a faceless mass of people but rather fifteen specific (but unnamed) individuals.


You definitely should try to avoid saying “people” too often in an IELTS essay, but at the same time you should not just randomly pick synonyms from a thesaurus. Instead, choose words that have a precise meaning and that grammatically fit your sentence.