In Spanish, “gente” (people) is a collective noun, as are “ejército”, “clero”, “profesorado”, “tropa”, “rebaño” or “flota”, to cite a few examples. As a collective noun, it includes a group or plurality of people, but it is written in the singular and not in the plural, with some exceptions.
In Mexico, it is used in the plural as a countable noun as a substitute for the word personas (“había tres gentes” for “there were three people”) or in Spain when we say “tiene ‘don de gentes'” or we flaunt a generally literary expressiveness (“Son gentes de aquí y de allá que vienen y van”).
“Gente” is an indeterminate word in terms of number but not in terms of condition. When we speak of people we speak, for example, of “una gente” who say, think, get excited, are of a certain way, make mistakes, enjoy, do sport, are afraid and scared or think… We say, for example, “la gente estaba pletórica”. One would say that “la gente” is a person, like you or me, who is able to express his or her contentment. But, in reality, it is many people like you or me. Therefore, in this case, “la gente” is a global and generic concept, an uncountable noun, with which we refer to common features of a plurality of people or a group of unknown people (“La gente aplaudía en el teatro”) and we write it in the singular.
It is normal that you get confused with the concordance, singular or plural, precisely because we are talking about a word that refers to a collective. But, it is not as complicated as it seems. The important thing is to be clear about the concept you want to express and the difference in the colloquial use of these nouns between Spain and other countries in America, such as Mexico, for example.
Colloquially, we also use the word gente to refer to a close group of people such as friends, colleagues or family.
Eso es lo que la gente dice. (that’s what people say)
No me fío de la gente. (I don’t trust people)
Sus palabras emocionaban a la gente. (his/her words moved people)
Algún día la gente se dará cuenta. (someday, people will notice)
La gente ya no aguanta más. (people can’t take it anymore)
La gente necesita disfrutar. (people need to enjoy)
La gente se va a asustar. (people are going to be scared)
La gente de mi generación no era así. (People of my generation weren’t like that)
La gente piensa que eres seria. (people think you are serious / reliable)
¡Esta es mi gente! (en referencia, por ejemplo, al equipo de trabajo o a miembros de la familia) (this is my people!)
We don’t say:
Esto es lo que las gentes dicen.
No me fío de las gentes.
Sus palabras emocionaban a las gentes.
Algún día las gentes se darán cuenta.
Las gentes ya no aguantan más.
Las gentes necesitan disfrutar.
Las gentes se van a asustar.
Las gentes de mi generación no eran así.
Las gentes piensan que eres seria.
However, if they say about you that you have “don de gentes”, be grateful for it. You are a person with empathy, easy to relate to others, and capable of attracting others because of your qualities. Among many others, kindness and sympathy..
Pía Valls / PracticaEspañol
Bibliography: Diccionario panhispánico de dudas (https://www.rae.es/dpd/gente)