Internet capitalization conventions

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Internet capitalization conventions are the practices of various publishers regarding the capitalization of "Internet" or "internet", when referring to the Internet/internet, as distinct from generic internets (or internetworks).

In formal usage, the noun for the Internet has traditionally been treated as a proper noun and written with an initial capital letter, that is, a majuscule or upper-case "I". Since the widespread deployment of the Internet Protocol Suite in the early 1980s, the Internet standards-setting bodies and other related organizations, such as the Internet Society, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the World Wide Web Consortium, use this convention in their publications. In English grammar, proper nouns are capitalized.

However, critics argue that some things that are unique yet distributed, such as "the power grid", "the telephone network", and even "the sky", are not considered proper nouns, and are thus not capitalized. Since at least 2002 it has been theorized that Internet has been changing from a proper noun to a generic term.[1] Words for new technologies, such as Phonograph in the 19th century, are sometimes capitalized at first, later becoming uncapitalized.[1] It was suggested as early as 1999 that Internet might, like some other commonly used proper nouns, lose its capital letter.[2]

Capitalization of the word as an adjective also varies. Some guides specify that the word should be capitalized as a noun but not capitalized as an adjective, e.g., "internet resources".[3][4]


Usage examples

Examples of media publications and news outlets that capitalize the term include The New York Times, the Associated Press, Time, The Times of India, Hindustan Times. In addition, many peer-reviewed journals and professional publications such as Communications of the ACM capitalize "Internet", and this style guideline is also specified by the American Psychological Association in its electronic media spelling guide,

Since the advent of the 'dot-com' era, a significant number of publications have switched to not capitalizing the noun "internet". Among them are The Economist, the Financial Times, The Times, the Guardian, the Observer[5] and the Sydney Morning Herald. As of 2005, most publications using "internet" appear to be located outside of North America, although Wired News, an American news source, adopted the lower-case spelling in 2004.[6] Throughout the English-speaking world, including North America, "internet" is more prevalent than "Internet" in informal sources, such as blogs, personal web pages, and chat rooms.[citation needed]

As Internet connectivity has expanded, it has started to be seen as a service similar to television, radio, and telephone, and the word has came to be used in this way (e.g. "I have Internet at home" and "I saw it on (the) Internet"). For this type of use, English spelling and grammar do not prescribe whether the article or capitalization are to be used, which explains the inconsistency that exists in practice.[citation needed]

The Internet versus generic internets

The Internet standards community has historically differentiated between the Internet and an internet (or internetwork), the first being treated as a proper noun with a capital letter, and the latter as a common noun with lower-case first letter. An internet is any internetwork or inter-connected Internet Protocol networks. The distinction is evident in a large number of the Request for Comments documents from the early 1980s, when the transition from the ARPANET to the Internet was in progress, although it was not applied with complete uniformity.[7][8]

Another example is IBM's TCP/IP Tutorial and Technical Overview (ISBN 0-7384-2165-0) from 1989, which stated that:

The words internetwork and internet is [sic] 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.

The Internet–internet distinction fell out of common use after the Internet Protocol Suite was widely deployed in commercial networks in the 1990s.[citation needed]

The term originated as an adjective,[9] and is mostly used in this way in RFCs, the documentation for the evolving Internet Protocol (IP) standards for internetworking between ARPANET and other computer networks in the 1970s. 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).

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 in RFC 870, RFC 871, and RFC 872), and is not capitalized.

In its specific sense, it is a proper noun, and therefore, without a plural form and traditionally capitalized.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Schwartz, John (29 December 2002). "Who Owns the Internet? You and i Do". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-19. "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.'" 
  2. 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." 
  3. E.g. "MIT Libraries House Style". MIT Libraries Staff Web. Last updated 14 August 2008. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  4. Donovan, Melissa (16 November 2007). "Capitalization". Writing Forward. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  5. "Guardian and Observer style guide". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 2008-04-19. "internet, net, web, world wide web. See websites." 
  6. Long, Tony (16 August 2004). "It's just the 'internet' now". Wired. Retrieved 2009-04-19. "... what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information." 
  7. 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."'
  8. 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")'
  9. The form first occuring 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". First use of "internet" is in RFC 675, in the form "internet packet".

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