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The term public company generally refers to a public limited company, which is a company that is permitted to offer its shares for sale to the general public. This may include offering its shares to the public through a stock exchange. This is to be distinguished from a private company (a private limited company) which is prohibited from offering its shares for sale to the general public. Both public and private companies operate in what is known as the private sector.

A public company is not to be confused with a state-owned company, the latter being a company that is owned by the Government for the benefit of the people as a whole and operates in what is known as the public sector.