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Alternative forms[edit]


special +‎ -ize



specialize (third-person singular simple present specializes, present participle specializing, simple past and past participle specialized)

  1. To make distinct or separate, particularly:
    1. (obsolete, intransitive) To go into specific details.
      • 1613, George Wither, Abuses stript and whipt:
        First lash the great ones, but if thou be wise,
        In generall and doe not speciallize.
    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, 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-cosmographie, xlviii:
        He is at most a confus'd and wild Christian, not specializ'd, by any forme, but capable of all.
    4. (biology, transitive) To make distinct or separate in form or function.
      • 1835 October, West of England Journal, 218:
        Functions... are specialized, or separated from each other, and... a complicated set of organs is appropriated to each of them.
      • 1911 September, Popular Science Monthly, 281:
        While nature has specialized women for child-bearing, it is society which has specialized her for housework.
  2. (intransitive) To become distinct or separate, particularly:
    • 1850, Asa Gray, The Botanical Text-book, 3rd ed., i. ii. 69:
      These cells specialized for propagation.
    1. To focus one's study upon a particular skill, field, topic, or genre.
      • 1881 March 1, Journal of Education, 51/1:
        They will not allow their scholars to specialize.
    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 pejorative) To be known or notorious for some specialty.
      • 1923 November 14, Evening Independent of 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]