Which of real time, real-time and realtime is correct when you are talking about seeing something as it happens?

  • What's the difference between the first and third terms in your title? Is one meant to be "realtime"? – Neil Fein Sep 1 '11 at 4:22
  • Depends on who you ask. (Or is it "whom you ask"?) – Hot Licks Jul 28 '15 at 13:34

The difference between "real time" and "real-time" is mostly a matter of style and placement. In most cases, there's no need to add the hyphen; "real time" will work very well. However, a case can be made for its use where it would clarify the writing. For example:

I am updating this in real time.


This is a real-time update.

In the second sentence, there's no real need to have the hyphen. However, a reader could stumble a bit on the "real", not realizing that the adjective is "real time". However, this is an extremely minor point, and is rarely done in practice. (In this case, it'd be carrying clarity almost to the point of silliness.)

A better use of the hyphenated form would be "real-time signal processing", so it's not confused with processing that's both real and the processing of time signals. Oxford points out this usage. If you're using this term in a computing sense and the domain you are working in has no precedent to offer, I'd use the hyphen when in doubt.

As to "realtime":

As words are commonly paired together, they tend to be spelled as one word...eventually. "Realtime" isn't a word in any dictionary I can find, but it does get used in slang and in names. American dictionaries tend to list these combination words before UK dictionaries.

In other words, we'll see "realtime" in more dictionaries. It's just a matter of time. (Really.)

  • If anyone can think of a better example, please feel free. – Neil Fein Sep 1 '11 at 4:28
  • 'In the second sentence, there's no real need to have the hyphen. However, a reader could stumble a bit on the "real", not realizing that the adverb is "real time".' — Did you mean "adjective"? – Siegfried Zaytsev Jul 28 '15 at 11:11
  • @SiegfriedZaytsev Yes, thanks for catching that; corrected. – Neil Fein Jul 28 '15 at 13:29
  • An Example From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: " 'Marooned in Realtime' by Vernor Vinge (1986)..... Marooned in Realtime won the Prometheus Award in 1987 and was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel that same year." – ab2 Jul 28 '15 at 19:46
  • 1
    I'm using realtime as a variable name in the software I'm writing :-) – Adam Hurwitz Sep 6 '18 at 16:59

All three are correct. Wikipedia, defining "real-time"/"realtime"/"real time":

Real-time, real time, or realtime may refer to:

Real time (media), a narrative technique in which the events depicted take place entirely within the span of the depiction, and at the same rate
Real-time computing, the study of computer systems which are subject to a real-time constraint

This doesn't mean that "real time" is used for media, or "real-time" for computing, as in the link provided, other examples show that all of these terms are interchangeable.

What the above quote does show is that "real time" or "realtime" is used as a noun (and can also be used as an adjective), but "real-time" is used as an adjective only.

As an example:

Real time: a synonym for presentism in philosophy of time
Real-time: a synonym for the present, as events happen

Note, how "real time" is a noun, whereas "real-time" is an adjective.

Looking at the Google Ngrams Viewer:

enter image description here

Interesting to note that "real-time" doesn't seem to appear much in books, but perhaps the reason is because it was coined to describe computing, and hence may be used a lot on the internet, but not in books.

  • 1
    That's because Google sees real-time as real time. If people search "real-time" with actual quotes in their search, then it includes the hyphen. Otherwise it's turned into a space. So of course real-time is flat. "real-time" may not be, though I suspect it would also be very low because not many people search Google like that. – Tom Aug 20 '18 at 22:20
  • <rant>These 5 words grate on me: "All three are correct. Wikipedia…" WIKIPEDIA IS NOT AUTHORITATIVE! It's a wiki, not an encyclopedia. It is strongly biased against experts. Wikipedia is neither correct nor incorrect. It's mere "wisdom" of the crowd. Follow the citations! If you want to stand firm against groupthink, instead of citing Wikipedia, you could say, "I agree with Wikipedia."</rant> – tbc0 Mar 28 at 17:36

For realtime, I've always followed Rule #4 in the Grammar book. http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/hyphens.asp

Notice that I used it as one word in my last sentence. In that case, I did so because it was a noun and not a compound adjective.

As a writer, I believe it's often more important to be consistent than correct. If I have clients who insist on using it one way or the other, I just go with the flow.


Realtime is correct.

English is rapidly losing its spaces in many common bigrams. Might as well get ahead of the curve.

protected by tchrist Feb 26 '15 at 2:44

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.