Should I capitalize words like Google and Internet? I see it written different ways depending on the author and publication. What is the hard and fast rule for whether I should capitalize Google and Internet or not?

Let me google that for you… (just kidding).

The short answer

It depends.

The details

The English way with novel words is to capitalize… and then lose interest and lowercase, possibly with a burst of hyphenation in between.

Do you remember E-mailing your contacts in the 1990s and early 2000s? Soon enough, as the years wore on and our inboxes grew, we started e-mailing them. Today, of course, we usually just email them, and we have only a vague notion of what lurks in the depths of our inboxes.

We did the same with the World Wide Web, which sadly lost not just its capitals, but also its first two words. Who has time, given the explosion of funny cat videos, to do more than search the (lowercase) web?

Your question includes two words we’re asked about frequently: Internet and Google, especially the latter when used as a verb (e.g., “I’m going to google Editarians”).

Some rules on when to capitalize words like google and internet

Internet came into our language in the late 1980s, proudly capitalized. Into the early 2000s, it held the capital in formal writing:

Now, however, most authorities have ditched the capitalization. We recommend writing it in lowercase unless the dictionary or style guide you are using advises otherwise.

Google should be capitalized when you’re referring to the company, as you would any other proper noun.

example: when to capitalize words like google or internet

It should not be capitalized when you’re talking about googling (looking up) information, just as you would not capitalize any other verb.

example: when to capitalize words like google or internet

Merriam-Webster does note that in “U.S. publications, the capitalized form Internet continues to be more common than internet, although the lowercase form is rapidly gaining more widespread use. In British publications, internet is now the more common form.” Internet is a word in transition, so either treatment could be correct as long as you are consistent throughout your document.

In case you’re wondering, other compounds that have lost their hyphens include bumblebee and chickpea, but no need to be a crybaby about it (yes, that one too).

What else is on your mind? If it has to do with writing or APA Style, we’re here to help! Pop your question into the form on our Ask the Editor page, and we will answer. 

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