It is crucial to the reproducibility of results and their proper interpretation that the conditions under which experiments are carried out be defined with rigour and consistency, in this review we attempt to clarify the differences and interrelationships among steady, balanced and exponential states of culture growth. Basic thermodynamic concepts are used to introduce the idea of steady-state growth in open, biological systems. The classical, sometimes conflicting, definitions of steady-state and balanced growth are presented, and a consistent terminology is proposed. The conditions under which a culture in balanced growth is also in exponential growth and in steady-state growth are indicated. It is pointed out that steady-state growth always implies both balanced and exponential growth, and examples in which the converse does not hold are described. More complex situations are then characterized and the terminology extended accordingly. This leads to the notion of normal growth and growth that can be synchronous or otherwise unbalanced but still reproducible, and to the condition of approximate steady state manifested by growth in batch culture and by asymmetrically dividing cells, which is analysed in some detail.