A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation underwater. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability. The term submarine most commonly refers to a large crewed autonomous vessel. However, historically or colloquially, submarine can also refer to medium-sized or smaller vessels (midget submarines, wet subs), remotely operated vehicles or robots.
The adjective submarine, in terms such as submarine cable, means "under the sea". The noun submarine evolved as a shortened form of submarine boat (and is often further shortened to sub). For reasons of naval tradition, submarines are usually referred to as "boats" rather than as "ships", regardless of their size.
Although experimental submarines had been built before, submarine design took off during the 19th century, and they were adopted by several navies. Submarines were first widely used during World War I (1914–1918), and now figure in many large navies. Military usage includes attacking enemy surface ships or submarines, aircraft carrier protection, blockade running, ballistic missile submarines as part of a nuclear strike force, reconnaissance, conventional land attack (for example using a cruise missile), and covert insertion of special forces. Civilian uses for submarines include marine science, salvage, exploration and facility inspection/maintenance. Submarines can also be modified to perform more specialized functions such as search-and-rescue missions or undersea cable repair. Submarines are also used in tourism, and for undersea archaeology.