Please read the following sentences:

  1. Thank God, I have got the real time information about flood.
  2. The software provides real-time data.

Can I interchange these sentences with real-time and real time respectively?

Also, is it fact that 'real-time' word is only used for computers?

I want to know about this.

Thank You in advance.

  • Do you want to know why the hyphen is placed? Because no matter what, real-time has only one meaning - the things that is happening currently! :)
    – Maulik V
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 7:26
  • 'real time' implies that somewhere… there is fake time... Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 7:29
  • @MaulikV Sure. I would be glad if you provide that information.
    – Rucheer M
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 7:33
  • I guess when the noun takes an adjective made up of two words, it takes hyphen. But let others come and answer. +1 though!
    – Maulik V
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 7:37
  • A nearly-identical question on English.SE: Chainsaw-equipped or chainsaw equipped?. Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 17:35

2 Answers 2

  1. Thank God, I have got the real time information about the floods.
  2. The software provides real-time data.

The rules about hyphenation in these cases are quite loose. In theory either "real time" or "real-time" is possible in both example (1) and example (2).

However, notice that sentence (1) might have two meanings. It is ambiguous, but sentence (2) isn't. Sentence (2) means that the software gives you information 'live'. The information is provided as the events happen.

In contrast, we can show two different readings for sentence (1) like this:

  • I have got the [real] [time information] about the floods.
  • I have got the [real time] [information] about the floods.

The first reading means that the speaker has information about times about the floods. This information is also accurate or correct. Maybe they speaker is trying to find out about the history of the floods, and previously they had wrong information, or just gossip. Here we have the adjective real meaning 'accurate' or 'not false'. It is modifying the compound noun time information.

The second reading is the same as the reading for sentence (2). The speaker is getting the information about the flood as it actually happens. Here we have a compound adjective real time modifying the single noun information.

To sum up, you do not have to put a hyphen in the compound adjective real (-) time. However, if you do use one, it can be helpful. It will stop your sentence being ambiguous.

Hope this is helpful!


Okay, there are some rules of putting hyphen between two/more words but at times, it's okay if you leave them separate.

When two words serve as compound modifier to a noun, putting hyphen is a good practice. Nevertheless, you may find (including native authors) using no hyphens at times. That said, I think, it's a matter of style.

GrammarGirl has a word to say about it:

A hyphen would be OK there, because “noise” and “canceling” are acting as a compound modifier, modifying “headphones.”

Notice how I said it would be OK, and I didn’t use any strong words like “must hyphenate” or “should hyphenate”? Although there are a few hard-and-fast rules for using hyphens, there are just too many exceptions to call everything relating to hyphens a rule.

In your case, both are okay and mean that something that is happening currently is being notified.

Real-time information about the flood means what is happening currently, you have all the information.

That software provides a real time data means what is happening currently with data, it lets you know. Something like a few APIs give you real time tweets which means it shows tweets the moment they are posted

  • 1
    It's also worth a mention that some hyphens go away over time, and sometimes, if a two-word phrase becomes common enough, a compound word will be born. For examples, one can find instances of real-time data, real time data, and realtime data in the literature (although the hyphenated version seems to be most common). Here's what the OWL says.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 9:10
  • 1
    Yes, worth mentioning. On the other hand, hyphen is almost mandatory in compound modifier--say--a 24-year-old man
    – Maulik V
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 9:13

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