Literary Discourse: ‘General Public’ or ‘Public’

Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo
Author: Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo

Is it “General Public” or “Public”? It is both depending on the context and preference of diction. Hahahahaaa! Many experts and users of English argue that what is “Public” is “General.” Therefore, according to these people, the phrase “General Public” amounts to verbosity, which should NOT be entertained.

While there could be wisdom in this argument, “General Public” remains an exceptionally legitimate phrase accepted in  almost all dictionaries – from Oxford to Cambridge, from Webster’s to Collins, from Macmillan to Longman. Below is the justification of claim:

Semantic Disparity (difference)

Permit me to state that it is NOT always the case that anything “Public” is “General.” A classic example is “Public University” which is NOT, at all, “General University.” Hahahahaha!  Clearly,  in this context, the word “public” could be: STATE,  GOVERNMENT, NATIONAL. Examples:

* Gbewaa University is a PUBLIC school.


* Gbewaa University is a STATE school.

* Kadiogo College is a PUBLIC institution of higher learning in Moshie Kingdom.


* Kadiogo College is a GOVERNMENT institution of higher learning in Moshie Kingdom.

Semantic similarity

It is instructive to emphasize that “General Public” and “Public” share certain common semantic properties (elements of meaning). Ideally, “General Public” is an emphatic or extended version of “Public.” This view could be best understood in the definition of both terms.

General Public

According to the dictionaries mentioned earlier, “General Public” refers to the ordinary people in society, rather than those who are considered to be important or who belong to a distinct group. Synonyms of “General Public” include “the people”, “the masses”, “civilians” the ordinary people”, “the men/women in the street.”


Similarly, “Public” as a noun means ordinary people in general or the community. As an adjective, it means “concerning the people as a whole.” In this context some of its synonyms are “popular”, “general”, “common.”

Special Meanings

In addition to the contextual meanings of the terms under review, “Public” has various technical meanings in various fields of knowledge. For instance, in the lexicon of PUBLIC RELATIONS, “Public” refers to a sub-set within a whole. Examples:

* Teachers as a PUBLIC in a school.

* Administrators as a PUBLIC in the same school.

* Cleaners as a PUBLIC in the same school.

* Learners as a PUBLIC in the same school.

* Parents as a PUBLIC in the same school.

When all these are brought together,  they constitute PUBLICS.

For this reason, “Public” which is regarded as a Mass Noun in ordinary English is a Count Noun in the jargon of PUBLIC RELATIONS: Public – Singular. Publics – Plural.

Usage in Journalistic Writing

Journalistic writing uses what is termed as “Condensed Grammar” in which words are economized to maximize space and ensure precision. Therefore,  news editors and sub-editors prefer “Public” to “General Public.” It is not that “General Public” is WRONG but that “Public” is conventionally PREFERABLE.


Dear reader, in the light of the above explanation, it may be clear to you that the use of “General Public” and “Public” is a matter of personal choice. However, it is advisable to consider the context whenever you want to use “General Public” or “Public.”


By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo | Lecturer, University of Applied Management, Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra | [email protected]

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