Should the Internet be Spelled with a Capital "I"?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

There is actually some debate over the question of whether or not to spell Internet with a capital “I,” reflecting the fact that the English language is in a constant state of transition. If you are writing a specific or formal paper, you may want to consult the style guide preferred by your organization or educational institution, to ensure that you use the form of capitalization that will satisfy your readers.

A dictionary, a thesaurus, and a book on English usage.
A dictionary, a thesaurus, and a book on English usage.

The argument for the use of a capital I is that Internet is a proper noun, referring not to “an internet” but to a specific, worldwide network that uses the TCP/IP protocol. Under this argument, capitalization is extremely important, because it clarifies which network is under discussion. Many major publications around the world follow this stylistic edict, including technical journals and publications put out by organizations which work in the field.

When people who spell Internet with a capital “I” use the lower case, they are referring to “an internet,” a distinct interconnected network. For example, many offices and schools use an internet to connect their computers directly with one another. This can also be called an intranet. This system, whatever one calls it, is often also connected to the Internet — or the World Wide Web — just to add to the general confusion.

Other people believe that Internet should be spelled with a lowercase “I,” citing terms like “hoovering,” which were once proper nouns, but have now become so commonplace that they are not capitalized. Supporters of this argument point out that the word is not protected by trademarks and copyrights in the same what that many genericized phrases are, so it makes no sense to protect it with a capital “I” when this courtesy has not been extended to “spackle,” “nylon,” “zipper,” “velcro,” and numerous other products.

Spelling “Internet” with a lower case “I” is especially common in casual communications. However, many people believe that there should be a distinction between the Internet and an internet, as these two terms are very different. The best way to protect and clarify this distinction is to use a capital “I” when discussing the Internet, and supporters of this argument also capitalize terms like Web, Net, and WWW.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


It should not be capitalized just like sun and sea are not. "The Internet" as a single entity is misleading - we are always just referring to the constantly changing collection of networked networks out there.


Rules of English. hehe, We are Americans, and hardly follow the rules of "true English". We make our own. My mother was an English teacher, and I remember her getting upset when the use of English was not to the "rule", but I always laughed inside. These rules will always be in a state of change because of how "we the people" of popular majority decide to relate to and use them. Just wait until cell phone acronyms become part of Websters English dictionary.

My opinion is, if the Internet can correctly convey meaning as the internet (without capitalization), then it is just not necessary. I think it looks funny using capitalization as if it's a proper noun. I say convey meaning because that is what words do, written and spoken. Words/letters are symbols that relay a shared meaning, so the question should be what best relays that meaning. Do you think the common majority understands the reason for the capital "I"?

"I was browsing through the Internet", to me is like saying, "I was browsing a Book". I'd bet 90 percent of the public is unaware that "internet" is referring to an intranet, and that same 90 percent would not know what an intranet is.

I'm a web developer and php coder. I'm on the web every day, and have been for 10 years. I did not know this bit of jargon until reading this today, as my employee stated I should be capitalizing the I, yet I've never had a mis-conveyed meaning with someone when spelling the word "internet".

Internet, www, web, online, etc. We most commonly relate these to the Internet. If anything, we should find ways be more specific about the intrAnet, or other internet types, as they are the uncommon and unknown. Always question the authority.

My two cents, and worth what you paid for it.


There are reasonable arguments for both cases. In favor of a lower case 'i' is the fact the internet is a distributed network, not unlike the telephone system or power grids, which would not make it a proper noun.

Capitalization is probably safe at this stage of the word in academic writing, however.


The current Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style (17.234) both call for capital "I."--Mike


When you are talking about an internal "internet", it is actually referred to as an intrAnet (emphasis added). Therefore, internet on a private network, would not be a correct term. I think the author is correct in utilizing the proper form of address for the paper that you are writing about.


Isn't the Internet a specific place, cyberspace?

Then it would, according to my "Little Brown Handbook" require me to capitalize.


Why not follow the rules of English?


I have had this argument with a lot of friends and I think it really is best to spell it with a capital I, just to avoid confusion, as the author of this article says. Especially when you're working somewhere with intranets and internets.

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