Standard, Standardize, and Standardized

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A reader has asked for a discussion of the words standard, standardize and standardized:

I ask because of a statement I made sometime ago, where I said, “we took a standard test”. But my friend thought it should have been “we took a standardized test”. I think I’m correct since standard in this context is an adjective that qualifies the noun test. On the other hand, standardize is a transitive verb and it should convey a sense of action.

However, when I surfed the internet to see how these words are used, I found a puzzling example: “There was no standardized time until train travel became common.” Would you consider this a correct way of using the word standardized?

The verb standardize derives from the noun standard. Among the different meanings of the noun and the verb, these are the ones relevant to this discussion:

standard noun: An authoritative or recognized exemplar of correctness, perfection, or some definite degree of any quality.

standardize verb: To bring to a standard or uniform size, strength, form of construction, proportion of ingredients, or the like.

Both standard and standardized function as adjectives, but with different meanings. One can speak of a “standard test” or a “standardized test,” but the two phrases do not mean the same thing.

A standard test is the usual test given. For example, a “standard driving test” requires the learner to parallel-park. A “standard joke” is one that is often repeated. A “standard excuse” for not doing something is “I didn’t have time.”

standardized test is a test designed, administered and scored according to specific guidelines based on a standard that has been established by some authoritative body.

It’s even possible to speak of a “standard standardized test.” For example, a particular standardized test like the PARCC or ACT might be the “standard standardized test” in one state or district, but not in another.

As for the phrase “standardized time,” the same sort of contextual considerations apply. One may speak of “standardized time” and “standard time.”

Before train travel became common, local times, based on the sun or a locally chosen meridian, were sufficient. Once people had to plan journeys with departure and arrival times in different regions, a standardized method of telling time became necessary. The result of the nineteenth-century century standardization of time is standard time: a standard system of reckoning based on geographical time zones.

Context, of course, rules, but generally speaking, standard conveys “the usual,” whereas standardized conveys something systematically designed and administered.

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1 thought on “Standard, Standardize, and Standardized”

  1. Excellent explanation. And while we’re here, that’s what Standard English is: The English language in the form that is authoritative or recognized as the exemplar of correctness, perfection, or some definite degree of any quality. It has usually been standardized at the national level, so Standard American English (SAE) and the standards of other Anglophonic countries are what are usually relevant to proper usage. When it comes to this issue there are A LOT of people who don’t “get it” for some reason. Many of them live right here on the “50 Incorrect Pronunciations To Avoid” article where they go on and on with mind-boggling irrelevance regarding their “dialects” and other affectations.

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