In jurisprudence, a natural person (also physical person in some
Commonwealth countries The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 56 sovereign states. Most of them were British colonies or dependencies of those colonies. No one government in the Commonwealth exercises power over the others, as is the case in a p ...
, or natural entity) is a person (in legal meaning, i.e., one who has its own
legal personality Legal capacity is a quality denoting either the legal aptitude of a person to have rights and liabilities (in this sense also called transaction capacity), or altogether the personhood itself in regard to an entity other than a natural person ...
) that is an individual human being, distinguished from the broader category of a legal person, which may be a private (i.e.,
business entity In law, a legal person is any person or 'thing' (less ambiguously, any legal entity) that can do the things a human person is usually able to do in law – such as enter into contracts, sue and be sued, own property, and so on. The reason for ...
non-governmental organization A non-governmental organization (NGO) or non-governmental organisation (see spelling differences) is an organization that generally is formed independent from government. They are typically nonprofit entities, and many of them are active in ...
) or public (i.e.,
government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists of legislature, executive, and judiciary. Government i ...
) organization. Historically, a human being was not necessarily considered a natural person in some jurisdictions where slavery existed (subject of a property right) rather than a person.


According to Maria Helena Diniz, an individual or natural person "is the human being considered as a subject of rights and obligations". Every human being is endowed with legal personality and, therefore, is a subject of law. According to Sílvio de Salvo Venosa, "legal personality is a projection of the intimate, psychic personality of each person; it is a social projection of the psychic personality, with legal consequences". However, and in addition, the law also gives personality to other entities, formed by groups of people or assets: these are called legal person.

Legal consequences

In many cases, fundamental
human rights Human rights are moral principles or normsJames Nickel, with assistance from Thomas Pogge, M.B.E. Smith, and Leif Wenar, 13 December 2013, Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyHuman Rights Retrieved 14 August 2014 for certain standards of hu ...
are implicitly granted only to natural persons. For example, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states a person cannot be denied the right to vote based on their sex, or Section 15 of the ''Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms'', which guarantees equality rights, apply to natural persons only. Another example of the distinction between natural and legal persons is that a natural person can hold public office, but a corporation cannot. A corporation or non-governmental organization can, however, file a lawsuit or own property as a legal person.


Usually a natural person perpetrates a
crime In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority. The term ''crime'' does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted definition,Farmer, Lindsay: "Crime, definitions of", in Can ...
, but legal persons may also commit crimes. In the U.S., animals that are not persons under U.S. law cannot commit crimes.''People v. Frazier''
173 Cal. App. 4th 613
(2009). In this case, the California Court of Appeal explained: "Despite the physical ability to commit vicious and violent acts, dogs do not possess the legal ability to commit crimes."

By country


In Germany, legal entities () such as natural persons () have the capacity to be bearers of rights and obligations; they possess legal capacity. The point in time at which this legal capacity begins and ends is disputed in and . According to section 1 of the
German Civil Code German(s) may refer to: * Germany (of or related to) **Germania (historical use) * Germans, citizens of Germany, people of German ancestry, or native speakers of the German language ** For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law **Ge ...
(BGB), a person acquires legal capacity on completion of their birth. However, in certain conditions, fetuses also have certain legal rights, for example, that of becoming an
heir Inheritance is the practice of receiving private property, titles, debts, entitlements, privileges, rights, and obligations upon the death of an individual. The rules of inheritance differ among societies and have changed over time. Offici ...
. The question of whether a fetus may have legal capacity as well has been left open by the Federal Court of Justice, although there are indications of a positive response. The German Civil Code grants the fetus, which does not have full legal capacity, essential rights, which are subject to the condition of subsequent live birth. The question of whether the fetus can have rights before birth and possibly from the beginning of pregnancy, in particular a right to life, is highly controversial.

See also

* Legal person * Personality rights * Juridical person * Person (Catholic canon law) * Great ape personhood


Civil law legal terminology Legal entities Personhood {{law-term-stub