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From what I know, the plural noun "people" is люди when no numeral precedes it. Whereas "people" preceded by a numeral take the stem человек-, as in два человека, пять человек (the latter example meaning that "человек" is also an irregular genitive plural).

In the aforementioned examples, the numeral is in the nominative case. If number 2 ever takes the animate accusative case (which does not concern numbers from 5 forth), then we'll get двух человек which is usable either for the genitive or accusative case of this numeral-noun sequence.

But what if I ever want to write a numeral-people sequence in other cases? I namely want to tell "between two people". Will it become Между двумя человеками?

Someone told me it should be rather "Между двух людей", an expression which, if correct, then adds up to the long list of irregularities in the Russian language, since между takes the instrumental case by default, and людей is being used after a numeral.

So, which is the right word for "people" after a numeral taking the dative, instrumental or prepositional cases?

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Firstly, with numerals (cardinal numerals) plus noun we should use only the root человек in all cases. The conjugation is as follows:

И кто? два, три, четыре человека, пять, шесть и т.д. человек

Р кого? двух человек, пяти человек

Д кому? двум человекам, пяти человекам

В кого? двух человек, пять человек

Т кем? двумя человеками, пятью человеками

П о ком? о двух человеках, о пяти человеках

But (Secondly)

If there is an adjective between the numeral and the noun we can use both человек и людей in all cases after пять, шесть etc. and after два , три etc. in all cases but nominative (only человек).

пять незнакомых человек и пять незнакомых людей, не было и трех взрослых человек и не было и трех взрослых людей

Thirdly

The preposition между can be used with the genitive and instrumental cases, so между двух человек и между двумя человеками. The preference depends on the context.

Four

There are words which show quantity, but they are not numerals.

Пять человек. Десять человек. Сто человек. This should be already clear. When we have a numeral , we use человек.

Десятки людей. Тысячи людей.Миллионы людей.When we have noun +noun , we use людей. And the number here is not exact.

Сто человек , but сотня людей. Миллион человек , but миллионы людей.

Грамота,ру. , Русская грамматика/Институт русского языка при АН. 1980.

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    Dear downvoters, care to leave comments, svp. The source is more than reliable. – V.V. Dec 14 '20 at 12:13
  • Grammatical correctness is a social matter, of approving certain ways of speech and not others. What's "correct" depends on where you live, what languages you speak, and who you interact with. – Eugene Dec 15 '20 at 11:09
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    "Толпа не менее сотни человек" (толковый словарь Кузнецова). "Сотни человек вышли на санкционированное шествие и митинг к Министерству иностранных дел в Праге". "Пара человек". And so on and so on... – Eugene Dec 15 '20 at 11:13
  • As to why books on Grammar do so poor a job at teaching even native speakers, maybe they were so intent on making sure non-native learners don’t generate ungrammatical patterns that they’ve forgotten to teach how colloquial system itself works more generally. – Eugene Dec 15 '20 at 11:19
  • Пара is two, не менее сотни is 101,102 etc. So человек is correct. But сотни людей, not человек вышли... I could not cover the whole chapter. Books are not to blame. People are. Besides, do you usually care what words you choose? I don't think so. Because for you it doesn't usually matter. It should though for those who write or for those who learn your language. – V.V. Dec 15 '20 at 13:39

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