The public that gathered on 19 December, 1890, at the Maryinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg gave Tchaikovsky's The Queen Of Spades a very warm reception. (source)

I'm investigating the senses of the term the public and the reasons why it seems to always take the definite article or other determiner, such as the possessive pronoun my. I got interested after reading this question at ELL.

I have the hunch that the use of the public in the quoted sentence is wrong somehow, and the members of the public would've been a better choice. It seems to me that the public is too broad a concept in English to stand for "the group of people gathered in a particular place at a particular time".

Am I right? To a native speaker, would the mention of the public seem out of place in the specific situation described in the sentence?

(Such use is okay in Russian)

  • This is a matter of style, and as such can be argued either way. – Robusto Nov 29 '14 at 13:34
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    The phrase appears in a newsletter by the Polish Music Center, and I suspect perhaps the writer is a native Polish speaker. In Polish (as in many other European languages), the word for an audience (the assembled spectators or listeners at a public event, like a play or an opera) is publika, which could lead to overuse of the word public in this sense in English where audience would be more natural. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 29 '14 at 13:36
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - I agree. The same is true for the Russian language: "public" as "audience". The matter is, I was pondering on whether the use of the public is correct here, and looking for examples. – CowperKettle Nov 29 '14 at 13:37
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    @Janus: I think audience in your first comment (and even more so organised audience in the second) seem to add connotations that aren't necessarily present in the excerpt as cited (and lose connotations that are in the original). To me it's just an unusual (antiquated?) single-word usage referring to part of 'the public'. I'd sooner replace it with "those members of the public" rather than audience. – FumbleFingers Nov 29 '14 at 14:02

As several of the comments have pointed out, the correct English word is "audience". Many Western and Eastern European languages use in this sense the equivalent of French publique, German Publikum, but English goes its own way.

Have a look at this: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/audience (under "translations").


It's not wrong, but it makes me picture the people standing around outside the theater. (Especially because it says "gathered... at") The audience would specifically refer to those who were inside watching the show.

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