Capitalization of Internet

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Conventions for the capitalization of Internet (versus internet) when referring to the global system of interconnected computer networks have varied over time, and vary by publishers, authors, and regional preferences. Increasingly, the proper noun sense of the word takes a lowercase i, in orthographic parallel with similar examples of how the proper names for the Sun (the sun), the Moon (the moon), the Universe (the universe), and the World (the world) are variably capitalized in English orthography.

The term Internet was originally coined as a shorthand for internetwork in the first specification of the Transmission Control Program, RFC 675, by Vint Cerf, Yogen Dalal, and Carl Sunshine in 1974.[1] Because of the widespread deployment of the Internet protocol suite in the 1980s by educational and commercial networks beyond the ARPANET, the core network became increasingly known as the Internet, treated as a proper noun. The Oxford English Dictionary says that the global network is usually "the internet", but most of the American historical sources it cites use the capitalized form.[2]

The spelling internet has become often used, as the word almost always refers to the global network; the generic sense of the word has become rare in non-technical writings. As a result, various style manuals, including The Chicago Manual of Style, the Associated Press's AP Stylebook, and the AMA Manual of Style, revised their formerly capitalized stylization of the word to lowercase internet in 2016.[3] The New York Times, which followed suit in adopting the lowercase style, said that such a change is common practice when "newly coined or unfamiliar terms" become part of the lexicon.[4] The same trend has also applied to mentions of the Web (the World Wide Web) as the web, despite some styling holdouts.

The Internet versus generic internets[edit]

The Internet standards community historically differentiated between an internet, as a short-form of an internetwork, and the Internet: treating the latter as a proper noun with a capital letter, and the former as a common noun with lower-case first letter. An internet is any set of interconnected Internet Protocol (IP) networks. The distinction is evident in Request for Comments documents from the early 1980s, when the transition from the ARPANET, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, to the Internet, with broad commercial support, was in progress, although it was not applied with complete uniformity.[5][6]

Another example from that period is IBM's TCP/IP Tutorial and Technical Overview from 1989 (updated in 1998), which stated that:

The word internet (also internetwork) is simply a contraction of the phrase interconnected network. However, when written with a capital "I", the Internet refers to the worldwide set of interconnected networks. Hence, the Internet is an internet, but the reverse does not apply. The Internet is sometimes called the connected Internet. [7]

In the Request for Comments documents that define the evolving Internet Protocol standards, the term was introduced as a noun adjunct, apparently a shortening of "internetworking"[8] and is mostly used in this way.[citation needed]

As the impetus behind IP grew, it became more common to regard the results of internetworking as entities of their own, and internet became a noun, used both in a generic sense (any collection of computer networks connected through internetworking) and in a specific sense (the collection of computer networks that internetworked with ARPANET, and later NSFNET, using the IP standards, and that grew into the connectivity service we know today).[citation needed]

In its generic sense, "internet" is a common noun, a synonym for internetwork; therefore, it has a plural form (first appearing in the RFC series RFC 870, RFC 871 and RFC 872) and is not capitalized.[citation needed]

In a 1991 court case, Judge Jon O. Newman used it as a mass noun: "Morris released the worm into INTERNET, which is a group of national networks that connect university, governmental, and military computers around the country."[9]

Argument for common noun usage[edit]

In 2002, a New York Times column said that Internet has been changing from a proper noun to a generic term.[10] Words for new technologies, such as phonograph in the 19th century, are sometimes capitalized at first, later becoming uncapitalized.[10] In 1999, another column said that Internet might, like some other commonly used proper nouns, lose its capital letter.[11]

Capitalization of the word as an adjective (specifically, a noun adjunct) also varies. Some guides specify that the word should be capitalized as a noun but not capitalized as an adjective, e.g., "internet resources."[12]


Increasingly, organizations that formerly capitalized Internet have switched to the lowercase form, whether to minimize distraction (The New York Times)[4] or to reflect growing trends as the term became generic (Associated Press Stylebook).[13] According to Oxford Dictionaries Online, in 2016 Internet remained more usual in the US, while internet had become predominant in the UK.[14]

Organizations and style guides that capitalize Internet include the Modern Language Association.[15] Organizations and style guides that use lowercase internet include Apple,[16] Microsoft,[17] Google,[18] Wired News (since 2004),[19] the United States Government Publishing Office,[20] CNN (since 2010), the Associated Press (since 2016),[21] The New York Times and Wall Street Journal (both since 2016),[22] The Chicago Manual of Style (since 2017), APA style (since 2019),[23][24] The Economist, the Financial Times, The Times, The Guardian, The Observer,[25] The Sydney Morning Herald, the BBC,[26] BuzzFeed and Vox Media.[14]


  1. ^ Vint Cerf, Yogen Dalal, Carl Sunshine, Specification of Internet Transmission Control Program, RFC 675, (December 1974)
  2. ^ "internet". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  3. ^ McCoy, Julia (6 April 2017). "Chicago Style Gets With the Online Grammar Times (A Recap)". Express Writers. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  4. ^ a b Corbett, Philip B. (1 June 2016). "It's Official: The 'Internet' Is Over". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  5. ^ RFC 871 (1982) "The 'network' composed of the concatenation of such subnets is sometimes called 'a catenet,' though more often—and less picturesquely—merely 'an internet.'"
  6. ^ RFC 872 (1982) "[TCP's] next most significant property is that it is designed to operate in a 'catenet' (also known as the, or an, 'internet')"
  7. ^ ISBN 0-7384-2165-0 (1998) section 1.1.2. Murhammer, Martin; Atakan, Orcan; Bretz, Stefan; Pugh, Larry. "TCP/IP Tutorial and Technical Overview". Open Library.
  8. ^ The form first occurring in the RFC series is "internetworking protocol", RFC 604: "Four of the reserved link numbers are hereby assigned for experimental use in the testing of an internetworking protocol." The first use of "internet" is in RFC 675, in the form "internet packet".
  9. ^ Post, David. "The History of the Internet, Typography Division, Cont'd". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
  10. ^ a b Schwartz, John (29 December 2002). "Who Owns the Internet? You and i Do". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 17 April 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2009. Allan M. Siegal, a co-author of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and an assistant managing editor at the newspaper, said that 'there is some virtue in the theory' that Internet is becoming a generic term, 'and it would not be surprising to see the lowercase usage eclipse the uppercase within a few years.'
  11. ^ Wilbers, Stephen (13 September 1999). "Errors put a wall between you and your readers". Orange County Register. Santa Ana, California. p. c.20. If you like being ahead of the game, you might prefer to spell internet and web as internet and web, but according to standard usage they should be capitalized. Keep in mind, however, that commonly used proper nouns sometimes lose their capital letters over time and that Internet and Web may someday go the way of the french fry.
  12. ^ E.g. "MIT Libraries House Style". MIT Libraries Staff Web. 14 August 2008. Archived from the original on 26 April 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2009.
  13. ^ Hare, Kristen (2 April 2016). "AP Style alert: Don't capitalize internet and web anymore". Poynter. Archived from the original on 16 February 2019. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  14. ^ a b Martin, Katherine Connor (5 April 2016). "Should you capitalize the word Internet?". Oxford Dictionaries Online. Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  15. ^ MLA Handbook. The Modern Language Association of America; ninth edition. 2021. ISBN 1603293515.
  16. ^ "Apple Style Guide". Archived from the original on 28 July 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  17. ^ pallep. "internet, intranet, extranet - Microsoft Style Guide". Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  18. ^ "Word list | Google developer documentation style guide". Google Developers. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  19. ^ Long, Tony (16 August 2004). "It's Just the 'internet' Now". Wired. Archived from the original on 29 April 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2009. ... what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information.
  20. ^ U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual (PDF). 2017. p. 65.
  21. ^ Hare, Kristen (2 April 2016). "AP Style alert: Don't capitalize internet and web anymore". The Poynter Institute. Retrieved 3 April 2016. The changes reflect a growing trend toward lowercasing both words, which have become generic terms
  22. ^ Bromwich, Jonah (24 May 2016). "Bulletin! The 'Internet' Is About to Get Smaller". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  23. ^ "Preferred Spellings". Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  24. ^ McAdoo, Timothy (10 March 2011). "Spelling Success in APA Style".
  25. ^ "Guardian and Observer style guide". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 19 April 2008. internet, net, web, world wide web. See websites.
  26. ^ "The BBC News Styleguide" (PDF). p. 33. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 June 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2014. Viewers and listeners complain most loudly when they hear the wrong word used, and now scripts are widely available on the internet, misspellings, too, are public.

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