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I'll first set out my understanding as follows but you please correct me as applicable:

I understand that an "individual" is different from an "entity".
An "individual" can be either "natural person" or "legal person".

But what about an "entity"?
Can an "entity" just like "person" be separated as either "natural entity" or "legal entity" or are entities just entities?

Are entities in fact legal persons?

If entities are legal persons then why is there need for a term "entity", why not just saying "legal person"?

I'm interested in short definitions of quoted terms to understand how each one differs from another.

Bonus question:

Can we say that "person" is same thing as "individual"?

3 Answers 3

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In many contexts, we cannot say that "person" is the same as "individual."

The meanings of these terms will depend on the context. In a contract, the meaning will depend on all the surrounding context, purpose, and background information known to the parties. A contract may even provide specific definitions.

When used in legislation, they are also often given specific definitions. For example, Ontario's Legislation Act defines individual and person:

individual” means a natural person

person” includes a corporation

In the Criminal Code of Canada:

every one, person and owner, and similar expressions, include Her Majesty and an organization;

In Washington:

(1) The term "person" may be construed to include the United States, this state, or any state or territory, or any public or private corporation or limited liability company, as well as an individual.

(2) Unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, the terms "association," "unincorporated association," and "person, firm, or corporation" or substantially identical terms shall, without limiting the application of any term to any other type of legal entity, be construed to include a limited liability company.

In Illinois:

"Person" or "persons" as well as all words referring to or importing persons, may extend and be applied to bodies politic and corporate as well as individuals.

You should always check to see if these terms been specifically defined in the context you're working in.


"Entity" is less often defined in legislation, but to give an example where the meaning of "entity" was in dispute (with the court concluding "entity" did not include "person" in the particular context), see Goodfellow v. CUMIS General Insurance Company, 2021 ONSC 3604:

[35] CUMIS points to several terms in the D&O Policy which refer to a “person or entity” (the definitions of “Change of Control”, “Co-operation”, and “Subrogation”). CUMIS points to other terms which refer to “the entity”, “an entity”, or “any entity” (the definitions of “Corporation”, “Predecessor”, and “Subsidiary”; and the condition with respect to an “entity” which has undergone a change of control), without also referring to a “person”. CUMIS points to other policy terms which refer only to “any person” (the Bodily Injury and Property damage exclusion) or to “a person” (definition of “Employee”), without also referring to an “entity”.

[36] In those paragraphs in the D&O Policy in which the word “entity” is used, and not the words “person or entity”, the context of the policy term indicates that the word “entity” does not refer to a human being. In these policy terms, the context does not require more than the use of the word “entity” to give it the meaning that is intended.

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  • Very useful because you provided examples on how it depends on jurisdiction, and your statement that A contract may even provide specific definitions is most useful because it allows to be explicit which is what I need. Commented May 6 at 16:12
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Can we say that "person" is same thing as "individual"?

No. The word person almost always includes at least some entities.

An "individual" can be either "natural person" or "legal person".

No. Individuals are almost never "legal persons", a term that usually refers to entities like corporations and partnerships and limited liability companies and non-profit associations, and pretty much anything else that is legally a person but is not a "natural person". "Natural person" and "individual" are close synonyms.

But what about an "entity"?

Can an "entity" just like "person" be separated as either "natural entity" or "legal entity" or are entities just entities?

Are entities in fact legal persons?

Entities are usually one kind of person, although the definition of "person" varies. For example, sometimes "person" includes governments, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes "person" includes trusts and estates, and sometimes it doesn't. Trusts and estates are viewed a entities for some legal purposes (e.g. taxation) and not for other legal purposes (sometimes the executor or trustee is the party that sues and is sued, rather than the estate or the trust).

Some unincorporated non-profit associations can't sue or be sued, sometimes they can't contract or own property either.

If entities are legal persons then why is there need for a term "entity", why not just saying "legal person"?

There is always room for more terminology. The law is not efficient about how terms are used and often uses terms to mean different things in different contexts.

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  • Some common sense is indeed assumed. "Seating limit 50 persons" is a trivial case where the term refers to natural persons only.
    – MSalters
    Commented May 7 at 10:37
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    @MSalters Sure. "Persons" is a word, like most word, that has multiple meanings. Sometimes the meaning is clarified and sometimes it is clear from context.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 7 at 13:51
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You did not list a location, so we will use Illinois. There is no official item in Illinois saying any of this.

No one is saying you can not say entity or person. However, in general, entity can be used to mention a group or organization, when individual may not.

Say person, individual, or whatever you like unless you are in a jurisdiction or situation saying otherwise.

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    – feetwet
    Commented May 6 at 21:25

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