‘Minimize’ and ‘reduce’ are both words that describe making things smaller. The difference lies in the degree of smallness that they imply, and the conditions that will apply to the change.
‘Minimize’ comes from the Latin word ‘minimus’, which is an adjective meaning ‘the smallest’. The word itself means to make something as small as possible or to make it insignificant.
“When she retold the story, she minimized the problem, so they didn’t take it seriously.”
“This year, their goals are to minimize costs and maximize profits.”
In the computer world, minimizing a window also means to take it off the screen. In some computers, this will be accompanied by the image of the window – or the outline of it – shrinking down until it cannot be seen. Maximizing the window is the opposite and will put it back.
‘Reduce’, on the other hand, comes from the Latin words ‘re-’, which means ‘back’ as in backwards, and ‘duco’, which means to lead a person, animal, or other object somewhere. The word means to diminish something or take something away in some way – metaphorically, a step back. This could be anything from reducing the water content in a stew to reducing the filler content in a novel to reducing someone in rank. Reduction means that something has been taken away, but not always in a negative way. Getting rid of unwanted things in an object will still count as a reduction.
In the context that can overlap with ‘minimize’, it means to shrink something. There is no specified size or rate.
“We’ll need to reduce it by 30% next time.”
“The bride and groom were able to reduce the guest list to 50 people.”
One of the key phrases in the definition of ‘minimize’ is ‘as small as possible’. This definition can vary depending on what the item is. Some people consider that ‘as possible’ refers to how small the person in question can or will bring it down. For example, if someone wanted to create a minimized version of the Eiffel Tower, then that would not mean making one that is as small as physically possible. If that were, then she would need a microscope to see her work. However, if she built a tower that was as small as she could reasonably make it, like creating a model smaller than her fingernail, then that would count as a minimization.
Another example can be found in retail. When a store is selling an item, they would want to sell it for at least as much as they paid to receive it on selves. Otherwise, they would lose money from sales. That amount would be the minimum they will sell it for, so that is the amount it is possible to minimize their price to. Any other price would be a reduction, not a minimization.
Because a reduction is any possible drop and a minimization is the smallest possible, it is fully possible to use either word when you are talking about a minimization. In that case, it would be better to use ‘minimize’ when you describe how small the thing is and ‘reduce’ when you want to emphasize that it has changed.
To summarize, ‘minimize’ means to bring something down to the smallest possible size. The definition of ‘smallest possible size’ may depend on what the people involved think is the smallest of the reasonable prices. ‘Reduce’ means to bring it down any amount, not necessarily to the lowest possible point. If something is brought down to the smallest possible size, then it is possible to use either ‘minimize’ and ‘reduce’ to describe the process, but the rest of the time it should be ‘reduce’ or one of their synonyms.