Today I realized that the word "Real" in "Real Estate" might be about "royalty" instead of "reality".

English is a foreign language to me, so I don't really know the literal meaning and origin of the term "Real Estate".

Might "Real" be an alternative term for "Royal"?

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    Good question! I've always wondered "If we have Real Estate, is there such a thing as Fake Estate or Virtual Estate?" Commented May 1, 2012 at 15:05
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    It's a good question. I had wondered about that, as well. The words "Real Estate", don't exist in English in the UK.
    – Tristan
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 15:23
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    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner: We call it property and it's dealt with by estate agents. And Real Tennis does come from "royal".
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 15:32
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    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner As Andrew Leach wrote; property. Although, the word estate is used in the UK, accompanied by the word agent. As in, an estate agent.
    – Tristan
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 15:35
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    By "Empire Estate" did you by any chance mean the nickname of New York State "the Empire State"? That is worth a separate question, actually, probably easily googlable.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 21:07

4 Answers 4


The real in real estate (AmE) or real property (BrE) is archaic, meaning of actual or physical things. Real estate is physical property, land and things fixed to the land such as buildings. In contrast, personal property, such as tools or clothing, is not fixed to the land. The Latin root is res, which is generally translated as things.

The alternative theory that the root is rex, i.e. king (from which through various intermediary languages we get royal, regnal, realm, regalia, and so on) does get a lengthy writeup in Wikipedia, however.

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    Wow, that article really answers the question on "Real Estate" etymology. Any clue on the "Empire Estate" term? Commented May 1, 2012 at 15:31
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    Americans also use the term "real property", especially in legal documents. I think it's pretty much synonymous with "real estate" but maybe a lawyer would make some technical distinction. It's common in the U.S. to have "real estate taxes" (on land and buildings) and "personal property taxes" (on anything else). These days personal property taxes are generally only imposed on businesses. So the entities that primarily pay personal property taxes are corporations, which seems a bit paradoxical to me.
    – Jay
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 17:39
  • Virginia has a "tangible personal property tax," although for individuals it's really just a vehicle tax, with some county-level exemptions the legislature has carved out for flight simulators and homeowners association furniture, among other things. @SebastiánGrignoli, I'm not familiar with any particular "Empire Estate"; a Google search turns up various different buildings and organizations by that name in several different countries.
    – choster
    Commented May 1, 2012 at 18:59
  • Sorry, that lengty wireup from Wikipedia seems to be gone. I've read a theory of "Royal Estate" as the actual belonging to the king, but I can't recall the title. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 8:21
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    @Łukasz웃Lツ You can find it at en.wikipedia.org/w/… , but it's unsourced and a bit rambling.
    – choster
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 14:06

This is what I've found on Etymonline.

real (adj.)

early 14c., "real, actually existing, true;" mid-15c., "relating to things" (especially property),
from Old French reel,
from Late Latin realis "actual," [...]
from Latin res "matter, thing," of unknown origin. [...]
Meaning "genuine" is recorded from 1550s; sense of "unaffected, no-nonsense" is from 1847.

Real estate is first recorded 1660s and retains the oldest English sense of the word.

So, according to this source, "real" means "existing, true" as per the Latin origin, but then even the later meaning of "relating to things" seems to derive from the same root (through French).

Minor addition : in Italian the term "reale" has the same double meaning it has in Spanish (royal and real), whereas this is not true for French (royal and réel), although the three languages all derive from Latin...

PS: Italian word "reale" has two meanings, because that word has two different origins, which phonetically produced the same word.

  1. from late Latin "realis,e" derived from Latin "res,rei" (thing). This means "real".
  2. from late Latin "regalis,e", derived from "rex,regis" (king). This means "royal". The loss of that "g" produces identical words. That happened through the influence to the old French "reial" (which had changed the sound [g] to [j], then [j] was lost in Italian), but also according to Italian grammar. Note that latin ending "-alis,e", which allows to obtain an adjective from a noun, is still active in italian as "-ale". Latin "regis,e" (accusative "regem") became the Italian "re" (it should have been "rege", which exists, but is only used in poetry and some ancient texts, the second syllab was lost early) , therefore "reale" is also automatically derived by "re" plus the ending "ale" without any reference to Latin, so that the loss of the "g" is consistent and makes the word regular. Notice also that "regale" exists as well in Italian (same meaning as "reale"). Sourcess: ethimologic dictionary, ethimologic dictionary, Treccanic encyclopedia

"Real property", historically, is property such that any legal action regarding it was "in rem", that is "on the matter itself"; this was opposed to "personal property", where any action would be "in personam", that is "on a (mere) physical object".

Thus "real property", in a somewhat paradoxical way to modern thinking, was more "real" because it was sort of abstract.


Real estate is the immobile / fixed portion of one’s estate, that is, land. It’s contrasted with the movable portion, that is, objects.

  • Thanks! Anyway, I was asking for the literal meaning. "Real" stands for "fixed", "tangible" or something like that? Or does it stand for something related to the kingdom? I know that in feudal times the king owned all the land where people lived. (In spanish the word "Real" might refer to "Reality" but also to "Royalty".) Commented May 1, 2012 at 15:17
  • It can also be contrasted with "chattel"
    – Ben Lee
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 16:04

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