Carpe Diem

Controversy: Two spaces or one space between sentences?

According to this Slate articleSpace Invaders: Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period“:

Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

More from the article:

Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studio, once wrote. “When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay,” she told me. “I talk about ‘type crimes’ often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It’s a pure sign of amateur typography.”

MP: I confess that: 1) I wasn’t even aware of this issue, and 2) I’m totally “old school” on this rule, probably because I learned how to type on a manual typewriter many years ago and was taught the “two space rule.”


HT: Paul Sebastian

56 thoughts on “Controversy: Two spaces or one space between sentences?

  1. I’m old school as well. I was taught to put two spaces after ever period, but in the ‘information’ age, space comes at a premium.
    The thing that stops me from going further in a sentence is not the application of the ‘two space rule,’ but instead improper punctuation – “…. and now that i know about it,….”

  2. I was also taught the two-space rule, and frankly, it really depends on the font you’re using as to which “looks” better.

    You might also note that the default settings on EVERY word processor I’ve used are perfectly happy with two spaces. They do sometimes throw fits if you leave three.

    Sorry Ilene, I choose to continue using two spaces, as long as it looks OK with the font, the same as I will always include a comma between my last name and the “Jr.” suffix, another point over which there is some disagreement.

  3. Stick by your guns!!! Crowded text does no one any favors.
    And while we’re at it, I’m going to put in a plug for inserting a comma after the penultimate member of a sequence, just before ‘and.’ Otherwise, one can’t distinguish between compound members of a sequence and the singular members of that same sequence. To omit this comma is lazy, and I believe, indefensible.

  4. I do medical transcription for a day job and do creative writing and journaling mostly for fun, sometimes $$$.

    I learned to type on a typewriter with two spaces after a colon or period. In the early days of word processing, however, if one typed two spaces after punctuation at the end of a line, it could make your spacing look extremely funky. I adopted the “typsetting” (or publishing standard) of one space after all punctuation as my normal mode of typing, and this is the way I mostly still type…

    … EXCEPT that in medical transcription there is apparently a “legal” requirement for there to be two spaces after a period and usually after a colon as well. (I have never checked whether this is actually a “legal requirement” — transcription company owners can be awful liars at times. One company wanted one space after all colons and two spaces after periods; another wanted two spaces after ALL punctuation except after the number in a list, when it was only supposed to be one space. How about THAT, punctuation fans?)

    Do I switch back and forth between two spaces and one space because of my job? Oh, hell no: I take all the transcription text I type and run a macro on it to put the correct number of spaces in.

  5. Interesting topic. I was also taught the double-space rule back in the ’80s, in typewriting class in school. I did a little research to find out why they had this rule in the first place. Here’s a quote from a book called InDesign Type:

    “The convention of double spacing after a period is a holdover from the days of the typewriter (remember those?) when fonts were monospaced, that is, all characters had the same width regardless of the shape of the letter, so that an I occupied the same width as a w. The characters were so wide and so open that a single space wasn’t enough between sentences.”

  6. this is mostly a justification issue.

    if you are using a full justification scheme then you can get away with 1 space and 2 can cause issues. full justification stretches the text to make it fill the lines and 2 space gaps can wind up looking huge.

    if you are using a left justify, then you really want 2 spaces. to not use them looks cramped and weird. see how this sentence does not have enough space from the preceding one? that’s because of left justification.

  7. HTML code does not like two spaces, so the world will change.

    In my Blogger blog, an extra space yields the following error to note the extra (not wanted) space:

    All this nonsense because I cannot stop myself from spacing twice after a sentence ends.

  8. Sorry about the last post; HTML code displays the following letters and symbols (without dashes) that look like this: &-n-b-s-p-;

    Obviously typing that gobbledygook deliberately shows nothing but a blank space in the finished document.

  9. I always use two spaces. Always have, always will. Even when I am sending text messages, I use two.

    Is it better to use two? I don’t know. I’ll leave that question to the philosophers.

  10. Manjoo undermines his argument by admitting there are no objective studies showing how much space yields optimum readability. Everything else is just opinion. We all know aesthetic judgement changes over time, just look at hem lines.

    What bugs me is any piece of software displaying proportional fonts should ignore how many times I hit the space bar and just display the correct amount of horizontal space.

  11. The comments on this topic with a double space after a sentence are more effective. Leaving a single space after a sentence makes for a rambling look.

  12. I begrudgingly use the single space to comply with format requirements, but believe the double space has good rationale. For example, the double space distinguishes the end of a sentence from an abbreviation followed by a capitalized word in the middle of a sentence.

  13. I learned on a manual typewriter and I also learned the two space rule and I REFUSE to change. It’s easier on the eyes. So. There.

  14. Old school was two spaces…

    Now a days we have elctrons to burn and then some…

    So stick with two spaces unless you’re texting or tweeting…

  15. Another thought that I’ve seen no mention of: Just try to read a long paragraph of many sentences in a single block. With proportional spacing, it’s just plain difficult to read, because everything runs together.

    Proper paragraphing is another whole issue, but there are many times when by rights (And content) the paragraph can grow to a half page or more. Adding two spaces after each sentence will make it easier to read because everything is no longer in one big block, it’s easier to find the breaks, easier to find where you left off if you are interrupted, and to match the “spoken pacing” the writer intended.

    Mark, by this time you probably won’t remember, but my class papers tended to match the way I spoke in class, either by use of commas or general sentence structure. I’m picturing my audience, be it a class I’m teaching or a presentation I’m giving, and trying to put across as much of the inflection and other non-verbal clues to paint the picture I intend. I really do want the reader to see the stops or pause for breath.

    I do tend to include too many commas and sometimes other “disapproved” punctuation to emphasize something as I write, but these will usually be pared down to a minimum in subsequent edits for formal papers, books, or manuals. But for casual writing, who really cares? If a publisher wants a single space, or the final output format requires it, as Scarlett said, I can always check with a macro or search-and-replace to catch all those double spaces I’m unconsciously going to be putting in anyway.

    Yes, you can get into trouble with word-wrapping and left-justification if the final printed output ends up with a page or column width that puts that extra space at the beginning of a new line. I suspect that THIS is the real reason professional typesetters want single spaces only. It makes things simpler for them while they’re otherwise mucking around with your work if they don’t have to correct all those unintended shifts. But, if it’s going to be a problem, THEY can use a macro or search-and-replace function. After all, they ARE doing it on a computer, and isn’t this what they’re being paid for?

  16. Personally, I type two spaces out of habit. The argument I’ve seen is that good typesetting programs can automatically insert appropriate space between sentences for you (which is, apparently, *between* one and two spaces). However, (1) I generally don’t work in those programs, (2) those programs can sometimes decide that a period ends a sentence when it does not, or decide that a period does not end a sentence when it actually does, and (3) additional spaces shouldn’t screw up those programs, I don’t feel bad using two spaces.

    To me, a single space after a period looks like a newspaper; a double space looks more like a book.

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