“Certified” and “Certificated”

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Hiriyanna Balakrishna Shetty wonders about the difference between certified and certificated:

Do they mean the same ?

The dictionary definitions for both words overlap.

The OED gives these definitions for certified as a past participle:

Made certain; assured; certainly informed; attested by certificate; furnished with a certificate.:

It gives these definitions for certificate as a transitive verb:

To attest (a fact) by a certificate.
To furnish (a person) with a certificate.
To license or authorize by certificate.

In use, however, certificated seems to belong to the educational sphere, while certified is the word used to describe standards and qualifications in other occupations and industries.

Until recently, I’ve thought of certificated as chiefly British usage, but the term occurs very frequently now in the U.S. educational context. For example,

In Philadelphia more than 2,000 of the 12,000 classroom teachers have emergency teaching certificates. More than 42,000 of the 275,000 teaching positions in Texas are filled by uncertificated educators.

Certified derives from the verb to certify; certificated from the noun certificate.

The verb entered the language before the noun.

First came certify to describe the act of making certain. Then came certificate for the document that attested to the certainty.

If I wanted to talk about a person whose qualifications include a professional certificate, I’d use certified: certified public accountant, certified plumber. In speaking of inanimate objects I’d refer to certified milk or certified mail.

Lately I’ve noticed such expressions as certificated air carriers and certificated stock. For all I know, these terms have a technical meaning that is different from certified air carriers and certified stock. I would expect to follow a company style sheet in the matter.

In my own writing, unless provided with a very strong reason to do so, I would never use certificate as a verb form.

From a stylistic viewpoint, certificated and uncertificated are ugly words. (My spell-check flags uncertificated as erroneous.) They also smack of jargon.

It’s one thing to talk about “certificated and uncertificated personnel” in stuffy administrative documents. After all, educators love Eduspeak: inflated, euphemistic words that obscure the facts beneath.

Writers whose intention is to inform the public might want to avoid Eduspeak. When it comes to “uncertificated” teachers, words like “unqualified” and “unlicensed” spring to mind.

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12 thoughts on ““Certified” and “Certificated””

  1. “From a stylistic viewpoint, certificated and uncertificated are ugly words. (My spell-check flags uncertificated as erroneous.) They also smack of jargon.

    It’s one thing to talk about “certificated and uncertificated personnel” in stuffy administrative documents. After all, educators love Eduspeak: inflated, euphemistic words that obscure the facts beneath.”

    Yea, verily! Protecting educators and bureaucrats from their language follies is a never-ending task.

    Although you make the case for instances when “certificated” may be appropriate, I can’t think of any instance when “certified” could not be used instead. After, a certificate exists only to certify a particular qualification or achievement.

  2. Certificated stock is stock for which a certificate has been issued. (Unlike most stock in your brokerage account, which is uncertificated and exists only electronically in the records of the issuer and broker.) “Certified stock” isn’t an expression that makes any sense.

  3. Yes, interesting, and as I have often found before, confusing. For 50 years now, I have worked with CFI’s “Certificated Flight Instructors”, or alternatively, “Certified Flight Instructors”, and for 40 or more of those years there has been unresolved debate on the issue as to what the “C” really means.

    In the US, anyone who wants to fly an aircraft must get a “Pilot’s License” … but there actually is no such thing … after meeting requirements an applicant will be issued an “Airman’s Certificate”.

    On that certificate, the issuing agency, the FAA, will also annotate the various “Ratings” that the airman holds. These would indicate the type and category of aircraft s/he may pilot, and whether or not s/he may pilot aircraft for profit or in scheduled airline service.

    Another ‘Rating’ is one of several levels of “Flight Instructor”.

    So, although the basic document is without doubt an operator’s license, that terminology is almost never used legally or formally … in ‘the business’, s/he is a “certificated airman” and if properly certified is also an instructor of other airmen. (in ordinary terms most certainly a teacher of flying skills) and is “certified by his certificate to have the right to exercise the privileges as defined on his certificate”. Simple, no?

    Little wonder the majority of people employed in this specialized area of teaching simple call themselves CFI’s, and let others argue if the “C” is for “certificated” or “certified”.

    Our human capacity to obfuscate never ceases to amaze me. To continue this argument much further might, indeed, lead to one becoming “certifiable”. 😉

  4. Even if I’m not an English native speaker, I think my bureaucrat background might be of some help. 🙂

    In my opinion, the difference is on the focus: “certificated” is related to the formal fact of being pinned with a certificate/medal/whatever, while “certified” should be related to the actual knowledge and ability to do something.

    I would definitely prefer “certified” every time; “certificated” sounds ugly to me as well…

  5. (Disclaimer: this information is specific to – and may be unique to – California. YMMV.)
    I agree that the distinction is often confusing, but Matteo’s explanation makes a lot of sense. As a paralegal, being “certificated” and being “certified” are two distinctly separate things.

    A certificated paralegal has taken and passed a course of training that (supposedly) has taught them the basics of how to be a paralegal. Any school can grant a certificate to its students, so “certificated paralegals” are not uncommon. However, California has a statutory definition of who may call themselves a “paralegal” (Business and Professions Code § 6450). To meet that definition by education alone (i.e., without any practical work experience), one must either (a) have a college degree and a minimum of 24 semester units in law-related courses from an accredited institution, or (b) hold a certificate from a paralegal program that has been approved by the American Bar Association. Statewide, only 32 paralegal training programs are ABA-approved, so many candidates hold paralegal certificates that do not qualify them to be paralegals in this state.

    On the other hand, someone who is a “certified paralegal” is almost guaranteed to meet California’s definition, as they have gone a step further than the basic certificate. “Certification” requires one to pass a test developed by a professional paralegal organization, the two largest of which are the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the National Association of Legal Assistants. Depending on how much experience the candidate has, there are several different exams they may qualify for, but even the most basic test requires either a certificate from an ABA-approved program or the combination of a degree and a specified number of law-related units. (Note that the requirement is the same as that in California’s definition of a paralegal.)

    So, it is possible to be certificated and not be certified. However, for all practical purposes, you cannot be certified if you are not certificated.

  6. @KTK, thanks for the distinction! Necessary or not, it’s always good to know, especially when writing. Majority might not know the diff, but those who do, will.

  7. The word certified implies there is some guarantee or assurance of quality. Think certified pre-owned car.
    The FAA issues an airman certificate, which you keep for life (unless revoked for cause). There is no government backing or guarantees here. You’re not going to have the FAA refund your money if your certificated pilot crashes the plane you’re in. She has a certificate, that is all.

    I’m chuckling at the image of my 95 year old certificated grandfather being considered certified. Well, actually he is, but not for flying. 😀

  8. There is NO difference. I supposed “certificated” has become common enough to be accepted as a word but it never should have been. It’s pedantic jargon and I’m tired of hearing it in education circles. I have read that one is about holding a certificate while the other certifies the holder has learned certain knowledge. Well guys, the certificate does the same thing. Let’s stop using an overly complicated word that we already have a word for!

  9. Not quite sure if this is how other people use it or just my own head dictionary. In my field of translation, sometimes a translation will be certified by a translator or translation company. Often this will involve transposing the translation into a particular format. A company might use their letterhead, put the certificate text on one page and then the source text and target text. I consider this form of the document, prepared as a certificate, to be certificated.

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