The Internet and the digital age have revamped almost everything about our world: The way we read books (good-bye, print), listen to music (adios, CDs), get our news (sayonara, newspapers), even changing our language. The Web has added so many new words to our vocabulary. But 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 and convenience.
So, is it email or e-mail? Web site or website? Online or on-line?
A handful of grammarians (picture a room full of nerds from The Big Bang Theory adjusting their spectacles) are in charge of defining formal standards, but the Internet is a medium of the people—and, often, common usage trumps formal standards. There is power in numbers after all. It will be interesting to see who will win the battle: grammarians or the masses. (Note: Our money’s on Joe Sixpack…and that digital hyphens are for the Angry Birds.)
While that story develops, here’s the policy that we at Writer’s Relief have adopted—and you’re welcome to steal our strategy (think of it as a free download!). Keep in mind that as the gap between proper grammar and common usage shrinks, it’s likely that our policy will shift too. With the Internet, nothing stays still for too long.
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 more often than “e-mail,” especially on the Internet.
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 usage will ultimately take precedence over formal usage. 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.
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