What Does “IRL” Mean? Definition and Usage

, Staff Writer
Updated January 9, 2023
meaning of abbreviation IRL
    couple hike in mountains with IRL abbreviation and meaning
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Real life is all around us, but you need the right term to differentiate between being online and being offline. That’s where IRL comes in handy. It stands for “in real life,” but what does that even mean and how do you use it properly?

What Does “IRL” Mean?

While IRL might have a few alternate meanings, you’ll most likely see it as an abbreviation of “in real life.” That can get a bit confusing considering things that happen on the internet are still technically “real.”

It’s better to think of IRL as “offline” or “not on the internet.”

You can basically treat IRL as an opposite or antonym to online. That has admittedly gotten blurrier over the years with social media. Your family doesn’t disappear into the ether because you posted a picture of them online.

However, IRL is a good way to distinguish between how you present yourself online versus how you actually are in your physical meat body.


Examples of “IRL” in Text, Chats, and Posts

It can be tempting to pronounce IRL as a word, like “earl,” but it really is just an abbreviation. 

When typing it out, it’s not uncommon to write it out in all lowercase (irl). This isn’t incorrect by any means, especially considering it’s already a pretty informal abbreviation, but for the sake of clarity, stick with all caps.

  • Have you ever met him IRL?
  • Wanna hang out IRL?
  • I’m sure it’s more fun IRL.
  • As boring as I appear online, I’m actually a happy, fun go-getter IRL.
  • You seem nice. I’d like to meet IRL.
  • The internet’s great, but being with my friends IRL is more rewarding.

Although it can be used in face-to-face conversation, IRL is usually reserved for online communication and texting.


What Is “me IRL”?

To add a little extra spice into the mix, me IRL has become something of a meme phrase. It’s always used in conjunction with an image or video to describe a person’s physical, mental, or emotional state. For example, if you’re relaxing on a beach, you might show an image of a dog wearing sunglasses accompanied with “me IRL.”

This is a bit of a convoluted form of IRL because me IRL is used almost as a metaphor or symbolism. You are not literally a dog wearing sunglasses. It’s just a representation of how you feel at that current point in time.

Other Meanings of “IRL”

While “in real life” is by far the most common use of IRL, the abbreviation can be used to mean several other things. Some other popular uses for IRL include:

  • Internet Research Lab (computer science)
  • Indy Racing League (racing)
  • Internal Representation Language (semantics and linguistics)
  • Independent Reading Level (education)
  • Interactive Reader Language (education)

IRL is sometimes used as an abbreviation for the country Ireland.

IRL has also inspired an app of the same name. The IRL app helps people connect and hang out in real life, using technology to bridge the gap between the online world and real life so that people can foster relationships in person.


Abbreviations and Concepts Similar to IRL

In addition to IRL, you might see abbreviations that convey similar or related meanings or expressions.

  • AFK - away from keyboard
  • face time - time spent face to face with a person; direct personal interaction
  • RL - real life
  • VR - virtual reality
  • IVL - in virtual life
  • meatspace or meat world - the physical world (as opposed to cyberspace)
  • MIRL - meet in real life
  • LMIRL - let’s meet in real life
  • IBF - internet best friend