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I am writing a piece on integration of differential equations. One of the words that I have to use frequently is "timestep" (however it is written), i.e. a step forward in the "simulated" time.

There seem to be three variants:

  • "time step"
  • "timestep"
  • "time-step"

The wikipedia article one Verlet integration in fact uses all three (!) of these variants.

Is there a context in which one is preferred over the other? How do I decide which one to use?

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  • It doesn't seem to be included in major online dictionaries not requiring a subscription. I'd say that the compound noun is in its infancy, and there's often no consensus on whether to use one or other of the three possible (open, hyphenated and closed) forms. As a premodifier, I'd not use the open form, and I wouldn't be inconsistent (except where hyphenating a premodifier but using an open form otherwise). Otherwise, I'd say you're free to choose. Aug 31, 2015 at 9:38
  • If you follow the links at the bottom of this Google ngram page, you will see that all three occur in published works. For some reason time-step and time step appear in the same category. I think you have to choose one and stick with it. books.google.com/ngrams/… Aug 31, 2015 at 9:45
  • purely as a vote, I'd say "time-stamp" is best.
    – Fattie
    Aug 31, 2015 at 11:48
  • I think "interval" is the term you're looking for.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 31, 2015 at 12:09
  • I think you can use all three variants. I would use time step.
    – rogermue
    Aug 31, 2015 at 14:56

4 Answers 4

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A general remark on hyphens from Longman English Grammar by Aleander

1 There are no precise rules.

2 When short nouns are joined together, they form one word without a hyphen (a teacup). But this may lead to problems of recognition, therefore bus stop, not busstop.

3 Hyphens are often used for verb + particle combinations as in make-up.

4 When a compound is accepted as a single word, i.e. it has an entry in a dictionary, the tendency is to write it as one word (sunbathing).

5 In other cases the use of the hyphen is at the discretion of the writer, writing paper or writing-paper.

6 But the tendency is to avoid hyphens where possible.

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  • This is not a useful "answer" to the original question, because it gives no recommendation which of the three variants should be preferred. Dec 22, 2021 at 12:09
  • 1
    Au contraire, it is very useful as answer to this specific question but even more so for many other similar questions. Just because it is generic and you have to interpret it does not mean it is not useful - rather the opposite: its usefulness is enhanced dramatically.
    – stefanct
    Apr 24 at 2:03
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When I google "derivative timestep," I get many entries for "time step," but I don't get any with "timestep" on the first page. I do get "time-step," once.

Googling "derivative timestamp" gives a different set of pages, which are not about calculus but about web forum management and such (checking timestamps on posts that are "derivative"). This confirms what I know about the word "timestamp":

a sequence of characters or encoded information identifying when a certain event occurred, usually giving date and time of day, sometimes accurate to a small fraction of a second" (Wikipedia).

A timestamp marks when something happened; a time step is the interval between two times.

So I would use "time step" (because it's most common) or possible "time-step," and consider "timestamp" to be an error.

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  • If one is determined to use some variation of "time stamp", and not, say, "interval".
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 30, 2015 at 23:31
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    timestamp came in through the comments and not from the OP; I think that confuses the question instead of clearing things up (unless that is just autocorrect being its usual helpful self).
    – NadjaCS
    Oct 30, 2015 at 23:52
  • Yes, timestamp and timestep are very different concepts.
    – Darryl
    Oct 28, 2020 at 18:42
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As I was writing this reply, the spellchecker flags timestep as not a word, so based on that I'd avoid it. Whether you need the hyphen or not depends on your usage. If you're using it as a compound adjective, it needs a hyphen; e.x. time-step methods for solving differential equations. The words time and step describe the method together so you hyphenate. If you're using it to describe a discreet interval of time, it does not; e.x. the first time step uses a forward difference, while subsequent time steps use the central difference method. Google "compound adjectives" for more explanation.

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  • 2
    Note that timestep is no longer flagged as an error by the spellchecker.
    – Darryl
    Oct 28, 2020 at 18:54
  • "because the spellchecker did it" is not a strong argument IMHO Dec 22, 2021 at 12:12
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In a course in academic writing in English, we were advised to check how popular different spellings are. For this word, I get the following result for Google Scholar.

Time step: 1 870 000 results (includes time-step)

Timestep: 126 000 results

Conclusion? Time step (or time-step) is a much more popular spelling among researchers than timestep.

Note that Google scholar makes the same search independent on whether you write "time step" or "time-step". On the first few result pages, they are equally distributed.

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  • 1
    It would be helpful if you could also differentiate between the two variants 'time-step' and 'time step'. This is half an answer. You can even compare it with the existing answers and see what is statistically preferred.
    – Joachim
    Apr 26 at 18:09
  • Sorry, I was not clear. Google scholar make the same search independent on whether you write either "time step" or "time-step". Apr 27 at 4:45

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