The word rzeczpospolita has been used in Poland since at least 16th century, originally a generic term to denote any state with a republican or similar form of government. The famous quote by Jan Zamoyski, Lord Grand Chancellor of the Crown, about the importance of education is an example of this usage:
Today, however, the word is used solely in reference to the Polish State (seldom also to the ancient republics such as the Roman Republic and Republic of Venice). Any other republic is referred to as republika in modern Polish.
The official name of the present-day Polish State is Rzeczpospolita Polska, which is usually translated into English as "Republic of Poland". However, such translation, when talking about the 16–18th century Poland, may be confusing since in those times the Rzeczpospolita, despite displaying some features of a republic, overall was an elective monarchy. For that period, Rzeczpospolita is rendered rather as "Commonwealth" (which is another English version of the Latin res publica), as in "Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth".
The word Rzeczpospolita is also used as a name for three periods in Poland’s history:
Leaders of Law and Justice, the ruling party from 2005 to 2007, have coined the term Fourth Rzeczpospolita – a new Poland they attempted to create as a replacement for the current, allegedly too corrupt, Third Rzeczpospolita.
Other expressions and names that employ the term rzeczpospolita include:
Rzeczpospolita is sometimes abbreviated to Rzplita. RP is a common abbreviation for Rzeczpospolita Polska (Republic of Poland).
The peoples that were once under Polish domination have borrowed the word Rzeczpospolita from the Polish language. Lithuanian Žečpospolita, Belarusian Рэч Паспалітая (Reč Paspalitaja) and Ukrainian Річ Посполита (Rich Pospolyta) are used only to refer to the pre-partition Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.