Online or On-Line – Which is Correct?

In today’s connected culture, few words are as relevant to daily life as online. A connection to the Internet has become one of the easiest ways to do many basic tasks, like shopping, studying, and even finding a job.

Like so many words, though, there is more than one way to spell this one. Online is often spelled as on-line. Is either spelling better than the other? Can they be used as different parts of speech? Continue reading to learn more.

What is the Difference Between Online and On-Line?

In this post, I will compare on-line vs online. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that will allow you to choose on-line or online in your own writing.

When to Use On-line

how do you spell onlineWhat does on-line mean? On-line can be an adjective or an adverb. In both usages, it refers to the state of being connected to a network.

Here are a few examples of the word’s use as an adjective,

  • Jim uploaded his photos to an on-line photo editor because his Photoshop license had expired.
  • Many people find on-line dictionaries more convenient than their associated print editions.

On-line’s usage as an adverb is very similar, except that adverbs modify verbs instead of nouns.

For example,

  • You can message people on-line to find out if they want to go on dates with you.
  • Everyone should take precautions to browse safely when they go on-line.

On-line is the older variation of these two words that is quickly falling out of common use. It’s quite difficult to find a use of it in popular newspaper or journals.

When to Use Online

is online hyphenated What does online mean? Online is the now-standard spelling of the word. It’s slightly newer, although both versions originated in the late 20th century with the advent of widespread personal computing.

  • Nintendo’s history with online services on its game consoles is, to put it nicely, quite poor. –Business Insider

On-line was originally more popular, but online has since surpassed it in total usage. The chart below, which graphs online vs. on-line over time, illustrates this trend.

online versus on-line

This chart isn’t completely exhaustive—it only looks at books published in English since 1800, but it is still good for illustrating a long-term usage trend. If it included magazine and newspapers, the difference between the two spellings might even be larger—since books are often the slowest mediums to adopt new language standards and conventions.

Both online and on-line are compounds. On-line is a hyphenated compound, while online is a closed compound. Compound words are words made up of two or more individual words lumped together. Even though these particular compounds are adjectives and adverbs, compounds can be any part of speech, including nouns and verbs.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Both on-line and online are correct versions of this term. Today, online is used much more often, so unless an editor or supervisor specifically instructs you to use the hyphenated version, online is the better choice. Using on-line will cause you writing to appear dated, and might make a reader or two smirk as if you are technologically inept.

Since online basically means connected, you can remember that online is the better version. The words on and line are directly connected in this compound, just like devices and the network when they are online.


Is it online or on-line? Online and on-line both mean connected to the Internet, and they can be used as either an adjective or an adverb.

  • Online is slightly newer and is much more commonly used today.
  • On-line is quickly dying out and should probably be avoided.

In summary, use online unless you have a good reason to do otherwise.