I have recently come across sentences that treat "people" as a singular noun.

He cautioned that a war with Iraq would destroy a people who were already in a really bad situation.

As a result they are seen across much of the world as a people who uphold human dignity and embody the highest moral values.

A rocket program has military applications, but it is also a great alternative to war as a means of inspiring patriotism among a people who might otherwise be unhappy about earthly economic or political conditions.

Can you explain this usage of singular people?

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Another question related to the one above is:

Is people in "a people" singular or plural? To me, it seems singular, but quite often I see people use plural verb with it. The first sentence above can serve as a good example.

...a people who were...
...a people who was...

Thank you
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According to Random House Webster's Dictionary:

When PEOPLE means "the entire body of persons who constitute a community or other group by virtue of a common culture, history, etc.," it is used as a singular, with the plural PEOPLES.

Ex: This people shares characteristics with certain inhabitants of central Asia.

This people shares characteristics with certain inhabitants of central Asia.

For your second question, Quirk et al.( CGEL pp. 303) states that "...the singular form people is normally constructed with plural concord:

The Portuguese people have chosen a new President."
PromegaX has again given a precise and enlightening response. Thank you, PromegaX.

The topic of "people" vs. "peoples" has been addressed on the Grammar Exchange before. It appears in the Archives under "people," and has many examples and details.

You can get to the Archives by selecting it under "Grammar Q & A" on the left side of this page.

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