Can the verb specify take an object that refers to something specific, like "January 20" as opposed to "the date"? Are the following examples okay?

He specified January 20 (as the election day).

He specified California wine.

I'd appreciate your help.

  • 2
    Your examples are fine, although there's not enough context available to confirm whether or not "to specify" is the most appropriate verb for those situations. – TypeIA Jun 26 at 11:24
  • Is "California" a typo? It should be "Californian". – BillJ Jun 26 at 12:42
  • 2
    "California wine" is commonly accepted usage, even though "France wine" and "Germany wine" sound clumsy and incorrect. In fact, I don't recall ever hearing about "Californian wine." – Lorel C. Jun 26 at 13:45
  • 1
    In the UK we usually say "Californian", in California they usually say "California" as the adjective. But in UK you'll usually hear "Florida grapefruits", "New York elections". We normally say "British/French tomatoes" but for regions normally "Kent/Normandy tomatoes". – jonathanjo Jun 26 at 14:28

Yes. Merriam-Webster's dictionary says "specify" is "to name or state explicitly or in detail".

You could use it for anything someone clearly identified, whether or not you repeat the exact identification in your sentence:

The constitution specifies January 20 as inauguration day.


The date is specified explicitly in the constitution.

Our instructor specified single spacing for our book reports.


He specified the spacing for our book reports.

The recipe does not specify the size of the eggs.


The recipe does not specify extra-large eggs.

But "specify" is not for things that are vague, general, very complex, or unknown, or for non-factual statements.

NO: He specified that he had no idea what happened.

NO: The patient specified that she felt awful.

NO: My brother then specified, "Owww, stop! You're you're killing me!"

NO: The candidate specified that the economic and social situation would have to be ameliorated in some way in order to extend the American dream to all parts of the state and all demographic groups.

NO: Then my dad came in and specified, "What the heck are you doing?"

  • I had to downvote this only for the inclusion of sentences in the NO part of the answer that are perfectly idiomatic, as far as I'm concerned. I wouldn't use specified as a speech tag (although even that's arguably stylistic interpretation), but all of the other sentences (1, 2, and 4) sound perfectly natural and understandable to me—and I see no reason to specify (no pun intended—I just typed that without thinking about it) that they aren't allowed. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jun 26 at 18:39

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