Email Or E-mail? Website Or Web site? Online Or On-line?

by | Apr 8, 2010 | Uncategorized | 6 comments

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Confused by Web wording: email or e-mail? Web site or website? Online or on-line? Web server or web server? Internet or internet? Rules about hyphens, spaces, capitalized letters, and spelling are giving writers everywhere headaches.

There’s no question that the Internet has had a profound impact on the English language, adding many, many words to our vocabulary in a short period of time. Difficulties arise because grammar pundits, who are rigorous about insisting that language rules be logical and consistent, seem to be at odds with the general public, which largely prefers ease of use.

While only a handful of grammarians are in charge of defining formal standards, the majority of the population disregards those standards when it comes to a number of Internet terms. It will be interesting to see who will win the battle: grammarians or the larger population (Note: Our money’s on Joe Sixpack).

In the meantime, here’s the new policy that we at Writer’s Relief have adopted (and you’re welcome to steal our strategy). Keep in mind that it’s likely that this policy will change as the gap between common usage and formal usage shrinks.

How to write “online” or “on-line”
We’re starting with this one because it’s the easiest. “Online” has been preferable to “on-line” for a while now, both formally and informally.

How to write “email” or “e-mail”
Should you use the word “email” with a hyphen or without? Informally, “email” with no hyphen is acceptable. “Email” is used much, much more often than “e-mail,” especially on the Internet.

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However, if you’re submitting a short story or sending a formal letter, “e-mail” is still technically correct, so in formal creative writing, it may be a good idea to use the formal spelling. Only one thing’s really clear here: You don’t need to capitalize the “e” in “email.”

How to write “website” or “Web site”
The word “Web” comes from the phrase “World Wide Web.” Both “World Wide Web” and “Internet” are currently considered proper nouns and should be capitalized. So if you’re writing the phrase “Web server,” or if you’re saying, “Let’s surf the Web,” it’s better to capitalize “Web” the same way you would capitalize “Internet.”

Because “Web” and “Internet” are capitalized proper nouns, some grammarians argue that “website” should be written as “Web site.” That said, very few people except grammarians are using the spelling “Web site.” It’s awkward (one part of the phrase is capitalized, and the other isn’t, which makes many people uncomfortable).

“Web site” has been informally changed by the general population to “website,” no caps, no space between. More people are typing “website” into search engines than “Web site.” “Website” seems to have moved beyond slang and become a common usage. Dictionaries and style guides are only just beginning to catch up: “website” is currently acceptable according to the AP Stylebook.

(Note: In the future, “Internet” and “World Wide Web” might also lose their initial capital letters. But it’s too soon to tell for sure.)

When in doubt…

If you’re not sure about which phrasing to use in a given situation, it may be best to simply go with the formal standards. We recommend Merriam-Webster’s website for reference. You can’t go wrong following the rules.

However, bear in mind that many grammar pundits believe there’s a good chance that the informal usages will ultimately take precedence over formal usages. The rules are very slowly catching up with the times. Stay plugged in to Writer’s Relief, and we’ll keep you updated on grammar and usage rules.

6 Comments

  1. C. L. Rossman

    Your articles on "Web grammar" are interesting and valuable. I would go with the common usage on all the above terms.

    Reply
  2. celia@sciencerhymes.com.au

    Love your short & sweet articles on all things handy to know. It’s empowering to have a big picture perspective on the alternative ways of writing and doing. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  3. timelesswrought

    ya i too faced problems but not taken it up seriously in the past but now it is as important as related to the job(while writing technicial writing and checking for mistakes.As the time goes short the gramatic issues are never to be verified.

    Reply
  4. Bruce Watson

    “Internet” and “Web” should remain capitalized to distinguish the public networks from private ones. I haven’t seen it used this way very often, but a company can put up its own internal internet and/or web. Neither of these would be the Internet or the Web. Technically, an internet can be loosely defined as a set of connected computers, and a web as any set of connected computers communicating with each other via HTML and other protocols. Neither of these things have to be exposed to the outside world, which is why I wouldn’t capitalize them.

    Reply
  5. englishruler.com

    I thnk this is one of the most important information for
    me. And i’m happy studying your article. But should remark on some basic things, Thhe web site taste is
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    Reply
  6. Sky Blue Swain

    Great tips. Slang is becoming more widely used in so many cases, that it seems being incorrect on word usage may not have the profound impact it once had back in the day.

    Reply

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