Datasheets of controller chips frequently use the word "signify" to indicate the presence of something. However, I am more used to the word "signalize" and cannot tell the difference between both.

English Oxford Dictionary (EOD) definitions:


Mark or indicate (something), especially in a striking or conspicuous manner:
"people seek to change their name to signalize a change in status that has taken place"


Be an indication of:
"this decision signified a fundamental change in their priorities"

Those two definitions + examples do not help me out, though.

So what is the difference between "signalize" and "signify"?

  • +1. These subtleties/ shades of meaning questions make one think, and are notoriously difficult to answer.
    – cobaltduck
    Mar 28, 2016 at 19:02
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    I am very familiar with "signify", but had you not presented an OED link, I would have guessed that you had invented "signalize" yourself. It is rarely, if ever, used in U.S. English.
    – PellMel
    Mar 28, 2016 at 20:52
  • @PellMel In German, my native language, "signalisieren" is the common word, so "signalize" is intuitive to me as it sounds similar, while "signify" sounds like "signifizieren," which does exist in German (I had to look it up to verify its existence) but is rarely, if ever, used. Interesting those two words are direct counterparts.
    – cadaniluk
    Mar 28, 2016 at 20:56
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    @cad: I was perplexed by your I am more used to the word "signalize" until I saw your comment indicating that English isn't your native language. I'd advise you to just forget that word, like most native Anglophones, and stick with signify for English texts. Mar 28, 2016 at 21:03

1 Answer 1


As you point out, the two words are very similar and can in some cases be used interchangeably. I can't claim this is a set-in-stone rule, but where the difference lies in my experience hearing and reading the words, is in how emphatic and definitive the symbolism is. Note these definitions from Merriam-Webster (emphasis mine):


  • to make conspicuous : (distinguish, mark)

  • to point out carefully or distinctly

  • to make signals to : signal; also

  • to place traffic signals at or on



  • to be a sign of (something) : to mean (something)

  • to show (your feelings, intentions, opinions, etc.) by doing something

  • to have importance

Likewise in your own links, the striking and conspicuous within the definition of signalize, versus indication in signify. The stronger words are used in the definitions of signalize; the weaker words for signify. Signalize refers to the more clear and obvious symbol, signify to the more implicit and indirect one.

A drop in barometric pressure signifies the approach of a storm- hearing thunder signalizes it. A scratchy throat signifies you might be getting a flu- a fever and body aches signalize it.

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