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I've been using these expressions interchangeably without knowing their possible differences. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines "real-life" as an adjective as follows:

Real-life: actually happening in life, not invented in a book:

Examples: 1) a real-life drama 2) real-life problems

However, it does not define "real-world" as an adjective. It simply defines the real world as "the way life really is, not how people would like it to be or imagine it".

Oxford dictionary defines "real-world" as a noun as follows:

Real-world: The existing state of things, as opposed to one that is imaginary, simulated, or theoretical.

Examples: 1) We live in the real world of limited financial resources. 2) the real-world problems that teenagers face

I could not find "real-world applications" or "real-life applications" in my dictionaries. Google suggests about 566,000 and 479,000 results for these expressions, respectively. If these expressions have the same meaning, then which one is better to use? Which one is more formal?

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    Though commonly used interchangeably, they are not the same. Find out why. And let us know! Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Aug 11, 2017 at 5:42
  • @Kris English is my second language, and I couldn't find an answer to the question from the Web. I want to use it in a paper, but I don't know which one is better to use. I also would like to know which one is suitable for a presentation talk.
    – rasul
    Aug 11, 2017 at 11:53
  • 1
    Thanks for elaborating on your question. I've voted to reopen it.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 14, 2017 at 10:38
  • What's the difference between life and world? One difference would be that life includes humans, animals, and plants, while world includes inanimate things, like buildings, computers, and money.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 16, 2022 at 10:04
  • As you say, English is not your native language, so I think you should be asking this sort of question English Language Learners
    – David
    Feb 16, 2022 at 18:20

3 Answers 3

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I'm a behavioral scientist. Both of these terms come up in science and statistics. To my ear, "real life" means something like "everyday life for ordinary people" whereas the "real world" is a broader notion that includes any application of an idea outside pursuing ideas for their own sake. So, if somebody asks for a real-world example of use of the statistical device called a tolerance interval, you might tell a story about a reliability engineer trying to determine whether an assembly line is performing adequately. This wouldn't be much of a "real-life example" because most people don't do reliability engineering, nor anything much like it. A real-life example in statistics would be reasoning about whether it rained yesterday using the observation that your lawn is wet. Rain and wet lawns are mundane in a way that legal regulations about the durability of a surge protector aren't.

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This is a subjective answer, with no references to back it up. I acknowledge its limitations. However, in my experience, I would say that, although analysis may suggest the two expressions are equivalent in meaning, their actual usage is different.

“Real life” is surely the older of the two, and is typically used in the general phrase:

“in real life…”

making a contrast between an academic or hypothetical model or argument (e.g. in economics or sociology) and what is or has been observed in practice, where there are (perhaps unknown) factors which disturb or invalidate the model. An example might be a government economic policy that was designed to have a particular effect (e.g. making house ownership more accessible to young couples) but on implementation resulted in the opposite (see contemporary British Government policy).

“Real-world”, at least in computing science, is more recent and, in my experience, is generally used as an adjective in a more restrictive context, e.g.

“…real-world applications…”

It is also used in other areas of technology. The situation is generally to contrast a small-scale academic prototype (in computing, a ‘toy’ application) with one in actual production, and subject to the problems of scaling up and various extraneous economic and other pressures.

The moral is that although two expressions may seem to be equivalent, in English usage can mean that they are applied in different situations. (And, of course, usage is fluid.)

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Real life applications in our daily life is the same as Real World applications. This is because we apply mathematics each moment of our routine, in jobs we also use application, language, generation, culture, and translation application is always there.

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