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I've seen 「近代化{きんだいか}」or「近代化する」used to mean "modernization". I've also seen "近代" used to describe someone as "modern" (e.g. "近代的な人"). Obviously both words have the root "modern" somewhere but I'm confused about the nuances and when to use one over another.

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It seems you have understood

近代 is modern

近代化 is modernization

The meaning of the suffix 化 is change

The word 変化 means change, 強化 means strengthening, 悪化 means deterioration, 化学 means chemistry,...

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