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Alternative forms[edit]


special +‎ -ize


  • IPA(key): /ˈspɛʃəˌlaɪz/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: spe‧cial‧ize


specialize (third-person singular simple present specializes, present participle specializing, simple past and past participle specialized) (American spelling, Oxford British English)

  1. To make distinct or separate from what is common, particularly:
    1. (obsolete, intransitive) To go into specific details.
      • 1613, George Wither, “The Scourge”, in Juvenilia, page 334:
        Firſt laſh the Great-ones ; but, if thou be wiſe, / In generall, and doe not ſpeciallize : / Yet, if thou doe, ſo wiſely let it be, / None may except but thoſe that faulty be.
    2. (rare, transitive) To specify: to mention specifically.
      • 1616, Richard Sheldon, A Survey of the Miracles of the Church of Rome, Proving Them to be Antichristian, section 261:
        Our Sauiour specialising and nominating the places in which these false prophets should teach his presence to be.
    3. (uncommon, transitive) To narrow in scope.
      • 1628, John Earle, Micro-Cosmography: Or, A Piece of the World Characterized, Salisbury: E. Easton, published 1786, page 121:
        He is at moſt a confuſed and wild Chriſtian, not ſpecialized by any form, but capable of all.
    4. (biology, transitive) To make distinct or separate due to form or function.
      • 1835 October, “On the Structure and Functions of the Organs of Respiration”, in West of England Journal, volume I, number IV, page 218:
        In the lowest orders of being, we find these functions very much blended together, and several of them apparently performed by one simple apparatus ; but in proportion as we rise in the scale, we perceive that they are specialized, or separated from each other, and that a complicated set of organs is appropriated to each of them.
      • 1911 September, Laura Clarke Rockwood, “Food Preparation and Its Relation to the Development of Efficient Personality in the Home”, in Popular Science Monthly, volume LXXIX, pages 281–2:
        Those who insist that a woman’s place is at home by divine decree need only to study the life of primitive man to find out how very human are some of our domestic customs, for they will then see this distinction, that while nature has specialized woman for child-bearing, it is society which has specialized her for housework.
  2. (intransitive) To become distinct or separate from what is common, particularly:
    • 1850, Asa Gray, “Of the General Morphology of the Plant”, in The Botanical Text-Book, 4th edition, New York: George P. Putnam & Co., published 1853, page 69:
      These cells specialized for propagation, however they may originate, are accordingly distinguished by a special name, that of Spores of Sporules.
    1. To focus one's study upon a particular skill, field, topic, or genre. [from late 19th c.]
      • 1881 March 1, “Occasional Notes”, in Journal of Education (new), number 37, page 51:
        Also, to their honour be it said, they will not allow their scholars to specialize, and, with four hours of mathematics a week, even a Newton would not go up to Cambridge knowing much.
    2. To focus one's business upon a particular item or service.
      • 1908 March 27, Pall Mall Gazette, 12/3:
        Firms... which have specialised in the manufacture of ‘heavies’...
      • 1990, House of Cards, season 1, episode 1:
        Blackhead: I might look you up myself one of these days. Do you specialise at all, like?
        Penny Guy: Yeah. Verbal abuse and colonic irrigation.
    3. (usually derogatory) To be known or notorious for some specialty.
      • 1923 November 14, Evening Independent, Massillon, Ohio, 5/3:
        Watson specializes in adiposeness; none of his chorus beauties may be considered featherweights.

Usage notes[edit]

In biological contexts, specialized is often used with the prepositions for [when describing the function] or into [when describing the form]. In academic, professional, and commercial contexts, it is usually used with the preposition in.


Derived terms[edit]



  • Oxford English Dictionary, "specialize, v.", 2015.
  • Oxford Dictionaries [1]
  • specialize at OneLook Dictionary Search