Abstract Semi-interpenetrating polymer network (semi-IPN) of poly(vinyl alcohol)/polyacrylamide was reinforced with various doses of nanocellulose. The different composite films thus prepared were characterized with respect to their mechanical, thermal, morphological and barrier properties. The composite film containing 5 wt.% of nanocellulose showed the highest tensile strength. The semi-interpenetrating polymer network of poly(vinyl alcohol)/polyacrylamide; and its various composites with nanocellulose were almost identical in their thermal stability. Each of the composites however exhibited much superior stability with respect to the linear poly(vinyl alcohol) and crosslinked polyacrylamide. The scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) studies exhibited phase separated morphology where agglomerates of nanocellulose were found to be dispersed in the matrix of the semi-IPN. The moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR) was the lowest for the film containing 5 wt.% of nanocellulose. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.