Word Choice – On Line, Online, or On-Line

Matt’s question: “I have a question on the use of ‘on line’ vs. ‘online.’ In a recent blog post you spelled it ‘on line.’ Was this correct?”

BizWritingTip response: You got me. Thank you. I learn a lot from my readers. Although you often see the two spellings interchanged, I should have written it as one word in the example. British English inserts a hyphen; American English does not.

Politicians should post their expenses on line. (incorrect)
Politicians should post their expenses on-line. (British)
Politicians should post their expenses online. (American)
Do you enjoy on-line shopping? (British)
Do you enjoy online shopping? (American)

The Oxford Canadian Dictionary defines “on-line” as an adjective or adverb meaning “controlled by or connected to a central processing unit.”

“On line” is defined in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as “in or into operation.”

The new production system will come on line next week.

I will now remember to use “online” or “on-line” if there is a connection to computers. Anything else will be “on line.”