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first time asking a question on here. What is the difference in meaning between 人々、人物、人、人類、人間 and if you know any others it would be nice to include those too.

How do you use them properly?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted
  • 人類 human race as in 人類[未踏]{みとう}の地 (where no one has been before)

  • 人物 ("human thing") is not used to address other people. It is formal, and often used in the third person or referring to humans in general.

観察・描写・評論などの対象としての〕人 For example 危険な人物 or 登場人物.

  • 人人(=人々) emphasizes that there are more than one 人, as in "people." 「途上国の人々との話し方」

  • The hardest is 人間 , Chinese-based, and 人 a Japanese word. The former feels more formal and abstract (like Latin vocabulary in English.)

The compound 人間 comes from.人(々)の間, ie the interaction/relation of individual humans, and is often used with social connotation. よく出来た人間, 役に立つ人

Here's a nice quote I found:

「人は人間関係、社会を通して人間になっていく。」 ( from this page we can tell there's a philosophy behind 人 vs. 人間)

人 is used in phrases such as: [人聞]{ひとぎ}きが悪い, but not 人間聞き.

人間 is used in compounds with other ON-word: 人間社会, 人間科学部、大学院人間科学研究科、人間総合研究センター, you cannot substitute 人間 for 人 here.

人間 can also be read じんかん and means [世間]{せけん}, 世の中. Eg [人間]{じんかん}に[流布]{るふ}する.

Also, note that the actual usage of these words is likely more complex than illustrated above, which should be regarded as a rule of thumb, a general tendency.

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人(person) = 人間(human)

人々(people) = 人類(humankind)

人物(human thing, formal)

個人(individual)

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