HomeBook DesignHow Many Spaces After a Period? Ending the Debate


How Many Spaces After a Period? Ending the Debate — 184 Comments

  1. “Dr. McCoy felt ill. So he went home.” is three sentences under the single space rule. So did they tell the doctor that McCoy went home or was McCoy a Dr who was ill?

    If you have to read a sentence twice and question it because of the formatting then the sentence or the formatting is wrong. Unfortunately now we can never use tiles such as Mr. Ms. or Dr. again.

    Just food for thought. The woman and I have this discussion on and off.

    • “Dr. McCoy fell ill so he went home.” is one sentence with an abbreviation for “doctor” in it. “So he went home” is a dependent clause, not a sentence. Regardless, a sentence spacing rule does not imply that every dot ends a sentence. “Dr.” is clearly not a sentence, and I don’t think it will confuse anyone. Nice try, but though a wider space might theoretically distinguish terminal punctuation from internal punctuation, nobody seems to have tripped over the problem for the last 55 years. “Dr. McCoy fell ill so he went home at 2:00p.m.” is a single sentence despite the fact that it has 3 periods in it.

  2. The double space is sensible and useful. It’s there to denote a new sentence; a new thought; a new statement. Perhaps, if the period/full-stop were… full size, then a double space would be redundant. Notice that advertisers separate statements by giving them their own line even, or a different type or size. There’s a reason they do this; they want to communicate. Mis-communicating cost them sales. Look at the history of written languages. They improved steadily by separating words, and further separating statements. This improved comprehension. Let’s not go back. An “extra” space costs nothing, but gives much.

    Note to reader: The above was double spaced. If it’s no longer so, automation changed it. ‘Didn’t have to. ‘Went out of its way to do so. I wonder if it’ll soon be changing even our poetry.

    • Or perhaps the digital font designer added in the appropriate amount of space when he designed the period/full stop? Regardless, you’ll find very few books double-spaced in the last 50 years. As the article points out, I don’t think the practice is wrong, and there are plenty of reasons to support it. However, it is no longer the convention. Check any style manual.

  3. This is an interesting article, and thanks for sharing those old documents. But one question I have is why the habit of putting the extra space after a period persisted so much longer in typing (and keyboarding, once that became a thing), than in typesetting. I remember being told in high school and college in the 80s and 90s that an extra space was expected in papers and manuscript submissions, and some SMF guidelines on the web still say to put an extra space after.

    • A guess: Typewriters came in in the 1880s and enjoyed a 100-year run. Typing technique evolved to emulate printing styles (to the extent it reasonably could) and the emspace was standard practice. Print typography made a quick turn around 1961, but typewriting standards were, by that time, entirely disconnected. 50+ years later, the news has still not reached the typing community, despite the fact that every major style guide says to single space; nobody gets taught to type by a printer. Typing pedagogy is rooted in a tradition that printing quietly diverged from, and many who teach it persist in typing the old way. And as you’ll read in comments here, there are plenty of justifications for the two-space practice.

  4. I read aloud a great deal. I ‘m an actor and I like to look at the person with whom I’m reading. If I’m on camera I like my eyes to be visible. The double space is a huge aid to those who read aloud and don’t want their faces buried.

    • That may be, but nobody has typeset a book with double spaces for 50 years. Most digital typefaces have the needed space built in to the period, so the doubling isn’t required. That said, if you find utility in adding space, go for it. 50 years hardly makes a tradition in an art as old as printing.

      • “Nobody”? Wrong. The first book I looked at in my office uses two. Written in the last 15 years.

        • Given the number of people who typeset their own books these days, “the first book” may or not be representative. As the article and the comments that follow point out, arguments exist for an against the two-spaces practice. However, the major style guides have abandoned the two-space practice. CMOS, MLA, et al prescribe one space, and most commercial publishers follow a style guide. Do exceptions exist? Sure. Is the practice wrong? Of course, not. Technically, “somebody” is using two spaces, but if you define “nobody” and “somebody” according to meaningful statistical data, nobody is using two spaces any more. Millions of people believe they can use birth control and still be Catholic. The Pope may disagree. If you follow the style guide religiously, two spaces is “wrong,” but if you believe (as I do) that writing and expression are personal, malleable, and evolving, you can have whatever relationship you want with your typographic god if it helps you to get on with the business of creating books that inspire, educate, entertain, and transform readers.

          • So I did a similar test on one of my bookshelves and found the third book I picked to use double spacing. A 1990 edition of ‘Even Cowgirls Get the Blues’, hardly a self-published work. Other books by the same author had single spaces. It did seem the exception though.

          • Major publishers are notoriously horrible typesetters. Standards and styles vary as they try to cram more and more text onto a page to save ink and paper costs. I see half-inch “typewriter margins” all the time. You’ll find exceptions to every rule in their work, but if you ask any professional typesetter, the answer will be ‘one space.’ Thanks for reading.

  5. There is a very simple way to determine if there is a right answer, and if so, what it is: user testing. If readers process (i.e. skim, read, scan, search etc.) text faster and with better comprehension when two spaces are used between sentences then two spaces is the correct answer.

    If the results are ambiguous, then the answer is adopt either as a convention.

    Full stop.

    • Since the early 60s, readers have become accustomed to seeing single spaces. Web content reinforces this as it ignores multiple spaces. Sentence spacing is a matter of fashion. Older readers will prefer the wide spacing; that’s what they grew up on. Younger readers will prefer single spaces as many of them have never seen anything else. As with other style matters, each approach has its merits. If you refer to contemporary style manuals, single-spacing is the obvious and only choice. But if you prefer wide spacing, the style switch happened not all that long ago. It’s hardly heresy to use the wide-spacing convention, and if that “voice” feels like a more authentic form of expression, it’s the one you should use.

  6. Here’s my reasoning:

    Who’s going?
    You and I. Ryan too.

    Are three people going (you, I, and Ryan) or two (you and I. Ryan)? Maybe Iris Ryan is going! Consistently including the second space after sentences removes the ambiguity.

    • That is a ridiculously contrived situation. Are you saying that all of literature should have extra spaces added just because of the rare situation where a person referred to by the first initial “I” happens to end a sentence and their last name would happen to start the next sentence? Really?
      That is a funny example, for sure. But like so many other things: just rewrite the sentence.

  7. I worked for many years in print journalism where one space was a given. Now that I’m out of the racket, I think two spaces make sense, especially for the web.

    We scan more than we read, and anything we can do to assist in scanning is a plus. Two spaces help give a visual break between sentences (and between thoughts), so we’d be helping the visitors to our websites with two spaces. But if a site chooses to justify text, two spaces won’t help much.

    Also, as noted, sometimes a period is for an abbreviation inside a sentence. Following those periods with a single space helps the scanner know that he’s not looking at the end of a sentence.

    I doubt this will get much traction, especially considering that two spaces is considered old-fashioned. But if we care about how people consume our content, these are the kinds of things that should be front of mind.

    • You’re ignoring the fact that, on the web, two spaces will always be compressed into one. All web browsers manage whitespace the same way: after the first space, all other consecutive spaces are ignored. Put eleven spaces after a period, you’ll get one (unless you manually insert code to force the display of multiple spaces, an even greater waste of time.)

      Also missed by virtually all the 2-space proponents: modern fonts and their display mechanisms have smart kerning and powerful spacing algorithms to ensure good readability of digital content.

      We don’t need to clarify the period at the end of the sentence, we have computers to do that for us.

      Two spaces after a period is the same as five spaces at the beginning of a paragraph: an obsolete mechanism of the mechanical typewriter days. Neither has any place in digital typesetting, ever.

      • “Also missed by vir­tu­ally all the 2-space pro­po­nents: mod­ern fonts and their dis­play mech­a­nisms have smart kern­ing and pow­er­ful spac­ing algo­rithms to ensure good read­abil­ity of dig­i­tal content.”

        Any reasonable typesetting SW can recognize two spaces after a period – no need for manual removal. This means that an author can insert two spaces, and it will be handled appropriately without burdening the human typesetter. Why is everyone hyperventilating?

        • Actually, if you insert two spaces, most software, including Indesign will allow you to leave them in place. This is not a bad thing as the software shouldn’t be the mechanism that enforces a particular style rule. Those who elect to use double spacing should have that option. It’s easy enough to search the text and replace two spaces with one. Now if writers would just stop using space-space-space-space to center text!

  8. Hi,
    AAMT guidelines say 2 spaces after a period. It is logical because there is single space after a word and to denote a new sentence begins, what is better than 2 spaces? I worked as a MT and 2 spaces after a period is the norm. Thanks for your article… it is witty and fun…sundar

    • To denote a new sentence beginning you use a period. That is literally the purpose of periods. If we didn’t have periods, then yes two spaces would be needed to establish a new sentence. Also new sentences start with capital letters, so really we have TWO signals that it’s a new sentence, a period and a capital letter. I don’t see the necessity to also have an extra space. It wastes time, which you can argue is a trivial amount, but if you’re writing extremely long papers it adds up. It also makes very long papers even longer.

      But really the point is we have periods and we have capital letters, I do not see the purpose for having a second space, too.

      • But we also use abbreviated words within our sentences, like Mr. Dr. etc. Those periods do not end the sentence, nor do the next capitalized words begin a new sentence. I don’t mind when people use a single space, but to me, a double space after a period (at the end of a sentence) makes perfect sense.

        • Strictly speaking, spaces after dots that are not full stops/periods, such as those ending abbreviations, should be followed by a command to tell the software that it’s an interword space, not the end of a sentence. Word processors don’t handle this too well, though; proper typesetting software (e.g., LaTeX) does.

      • Periods look the same as decimal points. Capital letters look the same as algebraic variables. This assertion doesn’t hold up with respect to scientific documentation. The double space is essential for communicating this type of information.

        • What kind of scientific documentation uses decimal points followed by spaces? I’m no mathematician, but I find this a bit hard to imagine.

          • A = B x C and C = 2.165. A variable D is equal to A.

            I can see how the mix of math and English with variables and punctuation can get confusing and how double spaces might help.

            However, mathematical statements are often written on separate lines with Greek characters. I think there are better ways to wrangle mathematical expressions typographically, but it all depends on context.

  9. Interesting that this discussion begins and ends with type… Children learn two spaces between sentences long before they learn to type (or to “keyboard” as the class seems to be called now) — it’s taught when first learning to print, “one finger-width between words, two finger-widths between sentences,” to combat children’s natural tendency to collapse all their text into an unintelligible, unspaced line of characters.

    It would be interesting to see how far back the tradition of wide spacing between sentences goes in hand-written English.


  10. MLA actually doesn’t come down on either side with a hard decision – simply a recommendation! As long as the spacing is consistent, it seems to be a personal choice. “Because it is increasingly common for papers and manuscripts to be prepared with a single space after all punctuation marks, this spacing is shown in the examples in the MLA Handbook and the MLA Style Manual. As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor or editor requests that you do otherwise.” (http://www.mla.org/style/style_faq/mlastyle_spaces)

  11. That might be an endless debate, just like where to put your brace in software development (vertical aligned is theright answer!!! LOL). 😉 We can argue it is arbitrary (but then how we spell words can change too, and in French, lot of word has been “refactored” (e.g., French for onion is oignon or ognon in the new reform — and that can shock lot of people!).

    What is funny is that when I took my first computer class in high-school, we started by learning to type. It is too far for me to go back and double-check if the teacher has been clear with it, but the first longer text I typed, as far as I remember, I put 1 space after the dot ending a sentence. I was constant thought (I’m pretty methodic and pretty conscious details by default without making any effort). Instead of appreciating the constance, the teacher circled all of them, and I think I ended up with something like 0 because of all the “errors” (not 100% sure, but almost that it was the grade for that work! For someone who always aim 100%, you remember it!!!). So I was like WTF? And he said to put 2 spaces after the dot. Instead of being “rebel”, even if I probably was not happy with the grade he gave me in the context (!!), I just followed his standard. So basicelly, I trained myself with two spaces after the dot. I am not sure if I type 100% conventionally as I often do thing unorthodox (I talk about how I place my hand), but I always been known to be able to type “very fast” (yeah I am the one winning all the TypeRacer races, LOL… jk… I’m getting old for these things… :D)

    So nowdays, I still put 2 spaces after the dot like it was coming from my instinct. I won’t conclude tonight if 1 or 2 is better, I stumbled here wanting to find something for someone else (as lot of people type without being constant. A space after a comma, sometime yes, sometime no, etc. — they just probably never learned any standard and/or they are probably not sensible to such details).

    What happened to that teacher? He had an heart attack during the year and got replaced by a younger teacher (does not mean anything, just saying). At the end of the year, they gave me the title for the best student in computer class or something like that… and the person who was taking the picture of honor students was… that teacher who gave me a zero. It was like my revenge, LOL. 😉 Bah, seeing it that way is negative, but it does a good story (for nerds…).

    For some reason I did not like something about him, and I wonder if it was only because of that work he gave 0 or if it was the attitude. That detail, my memory has not registered. But that is my story.

    Oh, and I typed all this text with two spaces after the dot.

    Also, nowdays, with HTML being the “World Wide Wide” dialect… well consecutive spaces are ignored by default, therefore it usually does not change anything if we type one or two after the dot, as it will only present one (unless you adjust the style to show them).

    We can also say that one less space save text (but with my tendacy to write a lot fast… I probably don’t save much). So less traffic on the internet, less place on printed paper, etc. (maybe we save some tree in the ends?)

    However, in writing standard, AFAIK, we have different kind of spaces… however, with computer, we are used to use the spacebar and only one kind of space. For that reason, standard suggest different standard (like in French, by memory… I think here in Quebec, we put no space before a ?, but in France they suggest to put one… I would need to double check, but there is little difference like this in the encouraged way to write on the computer; but ideally they would like to have a space, just not a full space).

    And to end… with how lot of place like to put limit, like Twitter, eBay message, etc. I often replace all my double-spaces with one-space. You see how I can write a lot… well, on twitter, every character count!! 😀

  12. As an erstwhile business writing instructor and current technical publications manager in the aviation industry, I still use two spaces because my goal is to ease the task of reading tedious documents. To me, it’s less about style than function. Since our publications are all electronic, I’m unconcerned about saving space. Rather, I want my pilots to read their manuals, and white space helps wherever it can be inserted.

  13. My understanding is that early in the evolution of English as a written language there was no punctuation – and there was not even any spacing between words. The reason to put two spaces after a sentence is to distinguish the end of the sentence from abbreviations within a sentence such as “Mr.” – thereby adding clarity of meaning and ease of comprehension. I work in the legal profession and many legal documents today are “justified” in Microsoft Word (or other word processing software). The software is not able to distinguish between the ends of sentences and other uses of punctuation within the sentence. Thus, two spaces at the end of the sentence are far more likely to produce readable text after being “justified” by the program. As someone who does a lot of word processing, it is also often useful in searches to be able to distinguish the two situations, by being able to search for “period space” … or “period space space.” Of course, if one uses a typeface where the capital letters are much larger than the lower case letters then this is less of an issue – as in medieval illuminated manuscripts! However, that is certainly not the case with Ariel, Times New Roman, New Century Schoolbook, or most of the other commonly used fonts. SO – use TWO spaces!

    • I fully agree with your reasoning, and that’s why I use TWO spaces after a period.
      Some people say it isn’t necessary, and I let them know they’re getting the luxury of two-space punctuation at no extra cost, so please enjoy.

      • Which, again as Dave has said, ignores the fact that the instant you hand your work off to an editor, proofreader, or formatter for print or digital, or post it on the web, step #1 will be to remove double spaces. Every single time.

        Unless you’re hand typing your work on paper with a typewriter, your two spaces will disappear the instant anyone else touches your work. Since Dave is talking about publishing here, not about typing business letters, insisting on putting in those double spaces serves no purpose whatsoever.

        • Ditto—as evidenced by the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find a book published after 1960 that has wide spaces after the periods. I don’t think wide spaces are wrong; as the article points out, there’s plenty of historical precedent for them, and the change is relatively recent. But typesetters, style manuals, and the publishing establishment make the single space more than a trend. “Thee” and “thou” are perfectly understandable English usages, but like the double-space (and notwithstanding the fact that you’re ultimately free to do what you want), they should be used to imitate older styles rather than perpetuate them.

          And Scott, the notion that “in the evo­lu­tion of English as a writ­ten lan­guage there was no punc­tu­a­tion — and there was not even any spac­ing between words” strikes my as apocryphal. You won’t find word spacing on the Rosetta stone, but these matters all got resolved long before English came along, as evidenced by the fact that Latin has sentence and word spacing.

          • Clearly the technological process of “printing” is changing. But my preferred guideline for this (as for many things) is clarity. And in anything I print out for myself, those two spaces clearly make things easier to read. So for me it’s not a question of perpetuating an older style. It’s a question of communication. So I will continue to make that strenuous effort of typing two spaces rather than one. (But thou art free, of course, to do otherwise! Be happy!)

        • I guess we each choose which throwbacks we’ll retain.

          Cursive is useless to me, and I stopped using it as soon as I got out of high school. But the TWO spaces after a period has always made sense to me, so I continue to use it.

          Speaking of typewriters, why are we still using the QWERTY keyboard? It was deliberately designed to be slower to type on, to prevent the early typists from typing too fast, and jamming up the typewriters. If the goal it to be efficient and forward-thinking, we’d be using the Dvorak keyboard layout. But we don’t, because so many people want to stick with what they learned.

          In the same way I need to ‘deal with’ things I can’t stand, like Daylight Saving Time, and not using the metric system (like the rest of the world), I’ve also learned to deal with documents that don’t have TWO spaces after a period. Although I’ll admit, the spacing doesn’t really bother me, but Daylight Saving Time drives me crazy!

        • Aha! So what is needed here is an “em space” single character in the font! Any decent word processor then could be configured to auto-replace two consecutive strikes of the space bar with such an em space character. Of course, auto search-and-replace invoked by the editor/typesetter would soon make mincemeat of that. A child of the ’50’s, I’ll continue to type two spaces at the end of sentences, and will likely to do so for colons as well (but not for semicolons).

          • Measure the space after a period on your screen. It’s already wider than the space between words, just as the space taken up by the letter i is less than the space taken up by the letter w, so that 5 of each results in wildly different widths, thusly:


            Typewriters are monospaced. Everything is the same width, from i to w to period to space. Word processors do a passable job of kerning text already. Mucking with it manually seems pointless. However, there’s also little value in unlearning a lifelong habit if it’s not going to change anything, as is the case here.

    • In typography, if something is sufficient there’s no need to add more. One space is sufficient. Anything else is overkill. One space is the best typographic solution, there’s no point in making long arguments about it. The readability of justified type depends almost entirely upon the line length and character size than on the spacing after the period.

  14. It’s good to have different ideas and recommendations. Thank you for the answers, but I will rely on what I was taught in High School. Again thank you for your answer and consideration.

  15. One person who commented referenced APA. On their web site, take a look at the first bullet under Chapter 4:


    Quote: “Chapter 4: The Mechanics of Style
    Punctuation—return to two spaces after the period at the end of the sentence recommended for ease of reading comprehension.”

    This should put to bed any claims stating that any style publications after 1960 specify single-spacing. It’s simply not true.

    • It may put to bed any claims that ALL style publications specify single-spacing, but does nothing the put to bed any claims that ANY style publications specify single-spacing (as you state). It takes only one example to make this claim true, and there are many examples. To make it false would require that there be no publications specifying single-spacing.

    • The new rule IS one space after a period. It came about because the first computer wordprocessors that did right justification used to space out the space between characters, the spaces between words, AND the spaces after a period to make a line look even. Adding 2 spaces after a period added too much space between sentences.

      However, I still use 2 spaces after a period because good ole stupid Word does not space out between characters or after a period. It only spaces out between words. Consequently, I feel that one space after a period makes the text harder to read, so I still use 2.

  16. The real problem is not a matter of one space or two; it is a matter of hard-formatting or logical formatting. The kind of people who type two spaces at the end of a sentence probably also type a bunch of spaces at the beginning of a paragraph (or use the tab key, which is almost as bad) and who would rather physically change the font every time they use a subheading rather than use a style. It’s hard to blame writers for this, though, since the WYSIWYG philosophy of word processors encourages it.

    • Anyone who learned to type on a typewriter or was taught by someone who did learned the “two spaces” rule along with use of the tab key for indents. Many of these people are now teaching our children what they were taught—and let’s face it; it always worked for them. Meanwhile, in our keyboard-centric world my 9-year-old and her colleagues have had zero typing instruction (they’re taught cursive, though!) and nobody has mentioned how to use the split ruler and tab functions to format text. I suspect if we surveyed elementary school teachers (and even serious writers) to determine how many of them knew about spacing and formatting on a word processor, we’d find a serious information deficit there. As you say, styles are another matter. And yet, nobody studies this until they get to college. Why not at age 4?

      Thank you. You’ve given me the seed for a new blog post and a useful lesson to give my daughter.

  17. Someone above wrote that when in doubt, one should consult the style manual. That’s patently absurd. Did Faulkner (insert famous name here) check a style manual? Silly thought….

    • Absurd? Depends on circumstances. Authors writing for artistic purposes are free to do what they like. But if you’re writing for a publication, submitting a dissertation, or perhaps creating work for a particular press, you may be asked to follow style conventions (AP, MLA, CMOS, etc.). The style manual facilitates consistency across works by many authors. Everyone writes “5:00 a.m.” instead of having a few articles with “5:00AM” mixed in. Strunk and White’s A Manual of Style is an excellent guide for writers who may wish to look up whether the semicolon goes inside or outside of the quotation marks. Style manuals don’t always agree, but they represent broad populations of consensus about punctuation and grammar. Faulkner may have sat with e. e. cummings around a pile of burning rule books, but you can bet they read them before converting them into ashes.

  18. A small publisher sent me a monthly newsletter that said publishers hated correcting manuscripts with two spaces after a period. That was a few years ago. I fixed all of mine with the find and replace function in Word. I learned the old method when I took typing in school.

  19. I was taught to use 2 spaces, and I still think it’s more aesthetically pleasing.

    Here’s my reasoning:

    What if you’re writing (typing) and you use an abbreviation (like etc.)?
    How does the reader know if your sentence is finished, and when the next sentence begins? After all, the next word after ‘etc.’ could begin with a capital letter, and still be part of the same sentence. I prefer a clear distinction of one space after the period of an abbreviation (Mr. Dr. etc.), and two spaces after the ending of a sentence.

    I don’t really like listening to people talking non-stop, without breathing between sentences, and a single space reads that way to me. Double-space after a period is just that much easier to read. If you don’t believe me, try reading aloud in front of an audience. Look up from time to time and make sure nobody is asleep, then look back at your text, and see if you can find your place.

    For those who say “It’s a throwback from the way things were when people were using typewriters,” then as long as we’re willing to hang on to the same archaic QWERTY typewriter keyboard (which was deliberately DESIGNED to be inefficient, so we didn’t jam up the machine), then what’s so wrong about using two spaces after a period?

    If we’re worried about efficiency, why not start using the Dvorak keyboard, which is much more efficient than the QWERTY, and let’s start using the metric system. I think this is the only country in the world that doesn’t use metric system.

    Everyone has their preference, but from what I’ve read, the period (or ‘full stop’) spacing isn’t a grammatical issue, but a typography and design issue.

    People who only use one space after a period don’t bother me at all.
    But people who practice apostrophe abuse do!!

    • Much of the article debunks the myth that two spaces has anything to do with typewriter keyboards. Typists were imitating the standard of the day—the emspace—and this standard changed about 1961.

      Your example with etc. followed by a capital makes some sense, but it would make even more sense to spell out “etcetera,” and not use the confusing abbreviation. To your point, you might type “Dr. Smith had an appointment at noon.” But the abbreviation (Dr.) is so common, it’s unlikely to be confused with a period terminating a sentence—and you’d still have the option to write out “Doctor,” which would be better form.

      But though style manuals have all switched to the single space rule, history tells us that the emspace was standard until only about 50 years ago. It’s not as if centuries of tradition make it “wrong” to use wide spaces. As long as you’re making a conscious style choice based on knowledge of typographical history (instead of insisting your Junior High School typing teacher was “right), space any way you want to.

      People who double space don’t bother me at all.

      And I share your dislike of apostrophe abusers! Thanks for reading.

  20. Thanks for the article!

    I saw my brother use two spaces after a period today. I was puzzled because he used to use only one space. He said it was taught to him in keyboarding class and it stuck to him. I thought that it must be another tradition and instead of arguing, we opted to look for history.

  21. Hi. I found this interesting throughout, although I have to say that my preference for the single-space is quite contrary to what many others suggest here — namely, I find that the double-space/double space conundrum is too long for me to comfortably begin reading the next sentence. The length of a single-space I can cover without a problem though, leading to my overall preference for the single-space. At work, every document I work with on the reading/editing side I firstly Replace All double spaces with singles. Easiest way forward!

    My last point there is definitely supported by what I was taught: namely, no one should begin a new line of thought in a new sentence anyways. If it is so very different, then it needs to be in a new paragraph, and if it is not that different then it will probably constitute a logical follow-on from the previous point being established. I feel that if the writer needs to emphasise the space between sentences to make themselves understood since the direction of the paragraph is changing this much, then they are probably misunderstanding what paragraphs are for.

    Also though, I would say that generally modern typesetting engines work around the single/double and set it so that the double always looks off — manually creating doubles in LaTeX for example leads to an unnaturally long space which looks off, even if it may have been usable in the past, although this will be related to them automatically ignoring double spaces. NBSP seems to be one of the few features to allow use of double spacing in most programs anyways these days.

  22. I was confused by one of your comments:
    “Your type­set­ter will remove double-spaces from your man­u­script; that’s a sim­ple fact. Though writ­ers are encour­aged to unlearn the double-space typ­ing habit…”
    From your terminology description, the double-space is the m-space. The double space is the act of hitting the space bar twice. I unlearned the double space several years ago, but I do not know how I can unlearn the double-space. And isn’t double-space a characteristic of the font? If my manuscript contains double-spaces they are still single keystrokes, the typesetter shouldn’t have to explicitly remove them. The font that they use when publishing will automatically eliminate the double-space.
    The typesetter may have to remove double spaces, though.

    • A double space is “spacebar-spacebar.” The emspace after a period is an obsolete convention that was imitated by typing two normal spaces. Your typesetter will search your manuscript for “space-space” and replace each instance with a single space. In digital typography, the appropriate amount of space is built into each character. In fact kerning tables allow an A to nest into a W while leaving a gap between an A and a P. A period contains so little ink that when followed by a single space, it practically makes two spaces on its own. Many people who claim to like wide spaces after a period are reacting to this effect. To contemporary eyes, an emspace looks more like three spaces, a gap you won’t find in books published after the early 1960s.

      • I was trying to be facetious, but obviously not very well. I understand the difference between double space and double-space from your explanation of terminology.
        The point that I was trying to make was that, based on your terminology, I believe both instances of “double-space” in the text that I quoted should be “double space.”
        When the typesetter replaces “space-space” with “space,” he is removing double spaces, not double-spaces as you indicate.
        I believe that you are encouraging writers to unlearn the double space habit, not the double-space habit.
        I wasn’t trying to be over-critical or pick a nit. You’re obviously serious about this subject and I thought you would want to know about this potential inconsistency.
        I found this site through an investigation for work. I am in a group of software engineers. We contribute text to a set of common files that are embedded in our product and display help text to users through a variety of PC-based (not browsers) and non-PC-based interfaces. We have been inconsistent in our sentence spacing and I suggested that we agree on single spacing. With an age range of 40-70, mouths were agape at my suggestion. I’m trying to build my case that single spacing is the modern standard based on Chicago, MLA, and the myriad typographers who insist that single spacing is correct.
        What I find both amusing and frustrating is that the double spacers arguments are invariably something like this: when I took that one typing class in High School 30 years ago, Miss What’s-her-name said to use two spaces and, therefore, it is an immutable law even today. They cannot cite a single standard or style guide from that time that backs them; they are simply following what they were told by one teacher.
        Thanks for an interesting and enlightening article!

  23. Your observation that “The period and the fol­low­ing cap­i­tal are con­sid­ered suf­fi­cient to alert the eye that a sen­tence has ended and a new one is about to begin” made me realize why a single space is just not up to the task (in most of what I read). As a lawyer (and a tax lawyer to boot), even a period, a single space and a capital letter is just not a sufficient signpost. One reason is that sentences in legalese are packed with defined words (“Defined Terms”) to avoid repetition without sacrificing precision. Second, though deplorable (because of the suggestion there is a Defined Term that I missed), there seems to be a predilection for capitalizing nouns in general (in this litigators especially seem to be affected – perhaps that legal subculture, aspiring to be prosecutors and judges, is more attracted to Germanic expression? – or perhaps they are just more affected). Full text Justification, when combined with Defined Terms and seemingly randomly capitalized Nouns, just makes a single space after a period disappear on the page for me. When I am parsing the usual run-on sentences in legalese (since we hope to avoid ambiguity by encapsulating the entire thought in a single sentence; provided, however, that the punctuation is done properly), I occasionally resort to using the Word search function to find the period at the end of the sentence when, in my search for the meaning, I have become lost in the thicket of conditional clauses, wondering if I somehow missed the end of the sentence. (It is helpful that when I use the search function to find a period in MS Word are highlighted, as that highlighting catches my eye even better than a period with two spaces.) I prefer two spaces after each period . . . even in my ellipses, because that signals a sufficiently long pause to suggest the thoughtful consideration that is being indicated to have occurred but have been omitted. [I suggest that (in addition to adding more space after each period), we make more systematic use of parentheses and brackets to make writing = mathematical grammar.]

    • The simple fact is, many people find that comprehension is more smoothly achieved and reading is more enjoyable with the double space. All arguments for single space either ignore this or deny what we know to be true, thus revealing themselves to be made-up rationalizations for personal preference.

  24. I was born in 1970 and learned to type in the mid-80’s. At that point, double spacing after a period was still being taught. My 14 year old daughter learned typing this past school year (formal typing class – she’s been typing for far longer) and she was also taught to double space after a period. Double spacing after a period just looks more professional and cleaner. As to line double-spacing – hate it – always have. It appears childish, akin to writing on a Big Chief Tablet. It would be nice if a 1.5 were standard It is easier on the eyes to read than single spacing.

    • Check any style manual; they’ve all gone to one space. Check any book published since 1961; one space. Typing teachers who learned on typewriters teach two spaces, and you may prefer that look, but it’s 50 years out of style and effectively obsolete. I don’t think 50 years is long enough to establish a strong historical precedent. Wide spaces (emspaces, not double spaces) were used for 500 years, and you can use that to justify your use of them. However, the argument that it looks “more professional,” doesn’t stand up. Professionals abandoned the practice a half-century ago.

      • The summer between the 5th and 6th grade (so that would be in the mid 70’s), I took my mother’s typing books (published in the early 60’s) and taught myself how to type. I’ve been a touch typist since elementary school. Those books taught me to use two spaces at the end of a sentence. I’ve been doing that for nearly 40 years. Now I’m seeing that while typing online, sometimes I’ll have a space at the beginning of a new line, and it’s because I ended the previous sentence with a double space. I finally did a Google search. I had no idea this double space concept is so controversial. It’s a tough habit to break since that thumb just naturally hits the space bar twice after a period. I feel like such a dinosaur 🙂

  25. Two spaces after a period is dead and has been for as long as I’ve been in publishing. Get over it. All high-end front-end typesetting systems automatically truncate two spaces to one space but MS Word does not and if you put two spaces after a period you’ll end up with four spaces in justified type.

    In the digital age, content gets multi-purposed and the “look” is no longer controlled by the publishers but by the reader. Have you read anything on your Kindle lately?

    The next “rule” that should be killed is the no-space rule around “em” dashes. To avoid horrid line breaks on e-readers put a space before and after an em dash.

    I’ve been in publishing for over 40 years. I know of what I speak.

  26. Thank-you! I thoroughly enjoyed this. I don’t have time to read the comments, so please forgive me if I’m repeating something that has already been said. I am a double spacer, but then I still capitalize the names of the seasons and the compass points. I see no reason to undo my education in a world where “between you and I” is heard regularly. Interesting idea about paper saving scheme! I agree with your conclusion that technology did in the emspace. At the same time the printing technologies were eliminating many characters, computer tech was also hating on two stroke space typing. On a computer, each character has a discrete code and meaning, and there is only a single blank space in ASCII. Typing two spaces would alter the meaning of many columnar codes, and in many early programming languages would throw off the data. Fifty years later, we account for that disparity of one or more blanks in markup (HTML), by automatically reducing all strings of blanks and carriage returns to one space. Multiple spaces may be there in the transmission, but they are not displayed. This makes spacing in the code to be more readable, and allows typists of all stripes to easily use the same system. The good news for the dinosaurs is that double striking the space bar at the end of a sentence on an iPhone/iPad will cause it to put the period in. New tricks for old dinosaurs!

  27. Rarely mentioned in all the discussion over the technological reasons for the shift from double to single spacing is the role that the extra space plays in establishing the status of the sentence. It is a spatial signal to the readers’s brain that a new thought, not merely a new word, is about to be presented. It is ironic to me that the same guides that rail against the extra space between sentences advocate for an extra line between paragraphs.

    The double space will no doubt fade as the generation who learned to touch type on typewriters, and for whom the extra space is embedded in muscle memory, dies off. But something with value is being lost in this victory for the machine.

    • Apa has returned to the double space after a period at the end of the sentence starting this year in their updated edition. Not double spacing is lazy anyway, unless you are on twitter and want to save space.

  28. An interesting article. Two points from a non-writer, non-journalist, but with another passion–I am a speed reader (trained and practicing).

    Comprehension being equal, I can read faster with double spacing between sentences. It is a tested and quantifiable fact, and this is generally true for the majority of speed readers.

    It is easy to stumble on a sentence like: “The store had food, e.g. crackers, pears. And oats. Thomas Q. Partridge, and Mrs. E. L. Pig. Eat all your food. Mr. Jones. You, too. Monkeys. You, too!” Literary fiction– the kind where sentence fragments, abbreviations, etc., are intentional parts of the work–is particularly hard to read with single spaces post-periods. The extra space of the double spacing leaves a fiction author–who is loathe to follow all the conventions of the typesetters and journalistic manuals, anyhow–with more options for having a reader breathe, pause. It can be used as a poetic meter, even to fictional prose.

    Fortunately for the hundreds of thousands of readers that will read a written fictional work, the typesetters, nowadays, can single or double the post-period space with the click of a software button (even Scrivener software has that feature). So, the “do it this way for the typesetter” arguments, one way or the other, go out the window, like a lost canary.

    • What you say makes sense for speed-reading but I’ve never seen a spacing option in any software I’ve ever used. Scrivener is a great tool but it’s not a typesetting program. Typesetters immediately remove double spaces as do web browsers. Like it or not, that’s the standard for digital typography. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong or better or worse, but a double-space is an imitation of an emspace (a single character), anyway. If wide sentence spacing is desired, doing it right involves a lot of double-space replacements. I’d charge extra to make sure it was all done correctly.

  29. Someone may already have pointed this out to you in an earlier comment (I didn’t have the stamina to read all of them). If so, please forgive the redundancy.

    Your examples in Figures 1-9 all employ full justification, while Figures 10 and 11 do not. Forced justification always creates awkward and unnatural-looking spacing in printed lines, stretching any available space, whether between words or after periods.

    Should you have taken this factor into account in your analysis?

    • I commented on that, actually. Even in the justified examples, the spacing after periods is wider. Phototypesetters treated spaces as equal regardless of what characters they followed. Also, see the link at the bottom about linotype machines and spacing. Thanks for reading.

  30. Potato potato tomato tomato. Let’s call the whole thing off……!
    In the above ‘remark’ were there any grammatical or punctuation errors?
    Language/grammar/punctuation, does not begin at the source; it begins at the end.
    Which came first: the spoken language or the written?
    Written language is patterned after the verbal sounds, trying to convey the exact meaning.
    Therefore; ‘proper grammar and punctuation’ can be at odds sometimes. Proper grammar is just a starting point in establishing a more accurate ‘translation’ of the spoken word, but quite necessary; as in legal documents, where proper meaning and understanding is critical.
    It has been said; Mathematics is the perfect language. No ambiguity there.
    So when ‘exact’ or legal meaning is required, proper ‘rule abiding’ punctuation and grammar go hand in hand into the promised land of exactness: a very formal way of communicating.
    We don’t speak’ legaleeze’ but we use it. Why? Like Mathematics, it lessons the chance of ambiguity.
    However; an argument could be made concerning the ‘exact meaning’, using punctuation, grammar and language in a whole ‘new’ way. (Mark Twain comes to mind).
    In today’s ‘language’ a new form of ‘expression’ has been established, ever changing and evolving. 🙂
    The new forms of expression are more exact, and quickly understood in meaning; (just like ‘slang’) which creates a closer and more correct meaning of what the writer was trying to convey. It is not the ‘exactness’ of proper grammar that conveys the meaning; more the punctuation and forms of expression placed where needed.
    Punctuate the following to convey a meaning: that that is is that that is not is not is that it it is

    Two spaces after a period? Here are some thoughts on that. A period means stop; right? Well, one space after is like a stop sign; just a quick stop and then go, sometimes called a California stop. Two spaces after a period is like a red light; come to a complete stop (new information is ahead). A yield sign, a comma, you just tap your brakes because you need to slow and pay attention.

    My 3rd grade teacher told me that punctuation symbols are the road signs in the language we use. A period means stop; etc., But to be held to only a few symbols and spaces constrains the writer in expressing his meaning. Expressive punctuation is the jam on the bread of the writer. Without a more expressive form of communication, we would be eating the same old PB&J forever.

    GOT IT ?

    • AT 30,000 page views for this article and counting, the passion with which the writing community loves to debate the matter of sentence spacing and the religious zealousness with which the proponents of its various mythologies adhere to their stories is astounding. But though your idea of mixing spacings is innovative, it’s trumped by the eye’s desperate need for consistency in typography. By the same reasoning one could start sentences with upper or lowercase letters depending on the level of emphasis desired; the period indicates the end of the previous sentence so the capitals are arguably unnecessary. Herbert Bayer of the Bauhaus school advocated for the abandonment of capital letters back in the 1920s, but though logical and efficient, his movement never got any traction. Styles change, traditions fall by the wayside, and shocking innovations become commonplace standards—or change fails to happen in the most practical of circumstances—but a survey of the literature will tell you what was considered “right” at any point in history. The emspace (simulated by a double space) was correct up until the standard changed fairly abruptly in the early 60s. Now we live in a single-spaced world. You’re free, of course, to use any punctuation system you want, but you’ll drive your editors and readers nuts— even if your system is sensible, logical, and expressive. When in doubt, consult the style manual. Given the volume of text that’s consumed on-screen today, the matter is mostly moot. Consecutive spaces embedded in HTML render as a single space; your mixed spacing system would be invisible or at best, a RFPIA (pain in the butt) to use.

      Did I get it?

  31. Thank you so much for an interesting explanation. I’m a rule follower, and since I never got the official memo of the change from what I was taught in typing in 1974, I have adamantly stuck to two spaces. I am very doubtful of my ability to change after so many years of typing, but I will at least stop judging the one-spacers. I would bet (especially after reading these comments) that people fall into one of two schools: You either learned “typing” in school, and were taught “two spaces” or you taught yourself to “type” and have either always used one space, or had no problem changing when you heard it was the new norm. How easily one can change would also have to do with how many sentences one has typed. I type a great deal and have for 35 years (I typed graduate students’ papers in college to make money), and I cannot imagine how many millions of two-spaces I’ve typed in those years. But, I’ll try. (I wonder if this is why my font of choice is Courier! Maybe my two-space style looks better in that font.)

  32. I hope the irony is not lost on you that this article is rendered with single spaces all ’round.

    • Actually, it’s not irony; it’s the nature of HTML. Web browsers don’t render consecutive spaces unless you specifically tell them to do so by inserting a non-breaking space character after a normal space. Good observation, though I personally adopted the single-space standard a long time ago, anyway.

  33. I prefer two spaces after a period because I believe in the theory that the eye subconsciously picks up on the larger space — not so much the period itself — thereby allowing the reader to grasp more quickly and accurately the structure of the sentence, and paragraph for that matter. I agree, also, that the aesthetics are better than using a single space following periods and colons.

    • You are right about the eye. I’m dyslexic and only realized recently, after I was ordered to change my double spaces to single spaces, that I hate single spacing because everything looks like it runs together. As a result, I tend not to continue reading.

  34. A note on Spanish conventions of the em dash: It is, generally speaking, treated as a typographic sibling of parentheses and quotation marks—”hugging” the enclosed word, with no space on the inside but a space on the outside (or perhaps a punctuation mark, such as a comma or semicolon, after the closing em dash).

    I do appreciate your balanced treatment of the two-space versus one-space debate. As you say, typographic conventions, like spelling and usage, evolve. Whether one likes it or not, we are now in a one-space era.

  35. Great post. Beautiful examples. Just a technical clarification: an em-quad (or em-space) isn’t actually a name for a double space: it’s a square the size of a capital M. Interword spaces traditionally were about 1/3 of an em in width, making the sentence space equal to a triple space, hence the extra-wide spaces in your earliest examples. (Spaces after other punctuation like commas were usually an en-space, roughly 1/2 to 2/3 of an em.) For details, including quotations from actual historical manuals about early typesetting, you might check out this article: http://www.heracliteanriver.com/?p=324

  36. Thank you for confirming I am not crazy. I am 34 years old and I speificly remember the double space after punctuation. I have recently returned to college and have found classmates as well as consulting editors have removed my double space. They identify it as a typo. I’m not that old. Was it common place 15- 20 yeas ago? If not, I wonder where I picked it up? I swear I learned it in school.

    • It was taught in school, but the convention was quickly abandoned by most of us who are also familiar with standard typesetting especially in books. I learned it and never used it because it made me look like I was still writing a paper for my teacher instead of a professional product.

    • I was born in 1997. When I got to high school we were beginning computer integration pretty well but still taught some typewriter keyboarding. We discussed the whys of the font formatting and computer capability. I’m pretty sure we were taught to double space when using the typewriter and single space on the computer… in approximately 1994, in western Kansas.

    • I am just 30 and was also taught double space in school. I didn’t realize there was a debate until I, too, returned to school and a 24 year old classmate was very critical of my doubles. In official court documents, double is still used from what I can tell, and no matter how hard I have tried to employ the single space method, double is ingrained in me and my writing will invariably transition from single to double at some point. My mother worked in advertising through the 70’s and also emphasized the propriety of the double space. I have never had any professors criticize it, but I am now aware in group projects or editing assignments to note whether or not the writer uses double or single. I like my doubles; otherwise everything seems to run together for me.

      • Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much whether you type single or double spaces. In a publishing situation, your typesetter will convert all double spaces to singles. On the web, the browser will do the same thing. When in doubt, type as you’re accustomed to doing and then use find/replace as needed to conform to the style manual.

        • Except, of course, in professions where the typesetter will double the spacing if you’ve single-spaced, such as law.

  37. Hi,

    I just found your article. Nice to see another person picking up on a little bit of reality. I have a blog dedicated to this subject that I update when I get the chance (though sadly not lately). So far I’ve been focusing on the effect of the Linotype on spacing preferences in the late 19th and early 20th century. But at the moment I suspect that the real ultimate killer of the wider sentence spacing was the teletypesetting systems that were used as a front-end to the Linotype in the fifties to make typesetting even cheaper.

    Briefly, the Linotype could not achieve wide spacing by using two spacebands (adjustable spacing elements) next to each other, because they wouldn’t “seal” and hot metal would leak or squirt out. The operator had to place one spaceband, along with other fixed-width spacing elements to safely achieve wider spacing. It was never a problem with trained Linotype operators, but when teletypesetting became common, the typesetting task was largely given over to typists rather than typesetters. The teletypesetter used a typewriter keyboard layout where the spacebar would drop a spaceband. In this situation it would be a serious no-no to press the spacebar twice. Either operators were strictly forbidden from this, or more likely, the teletypesetter itself would not allow it.

    Teletypesetters still had the option to use other fixed-space elements, but the transition to unskilled labor meant this was not likely to be a focus in a busy newspaper. It seems likely to me that this is the origin of the modern edtiors’ hatred of the two space typing habit, and it also seems the likely origin of the myth that wide sentence spacing was just an old typists habit that needed to be eliminated.

    Gonna have to write a blog entry on this sometime soon…

  38. I’ll point out that your informal survey captures one change (dropping the second space at the end of a sentence) but not the first. If you look back to early literature, you’ll find that the first printed texts used no space at all; commas and periods were simply set loosely, and the beginning of the following word was about as close to the end of the preceding word as if no punctuation had been added. I have the vague impression that spaces after punctuation were standardized by Robert Granjon (printer & type designer in17th century France), but would need to do some research to confirm that. What’s unclear to me is when it became standard to use more space after sentences than between words. I’d always heard it was a Victorian convention, but your samples prove otherwise.

    • You’re right, of course. An MFA student could actually write a thesis about this but they’d have a hard time selling the concept as meaningful. What’s interesting to me is just how passionate people are about period spacing rules and doing things “right.” The introduction of “thin” spacing as a convention came relatively recently and most of the historical justification for it is bunk. Styles change. Type evolves. Proponents of the emspace have as much to stand on as detractors.

  39. I learned in junior high typing to space twice after a period at the end of a sentence but that was many years ago. I think the aesthetic of typography dictates in many circumstances whether to space once or twice after a period. I don’t think it really matters as long as it’s consistent throughout. Interestingly, your examples show two spaces in justified text and one space in ragged-right (e.g., left-justified) text. There’s also a convention called an enspace but you don’t mention the difference between it and an emspace.

    • If the analogy to dashes holds true, the enspace is a “middle ground,” much as an endash (used mostly for ranges of numerical values) is somewhere between a hyphen and an emdash in width. The enspace character is included as a usable unicode character in digital typography but I have been unable to find a single example of it or instructions for its use. I think it may sometimes appear between footnote numbers and the text that follows them. Some old-school typographer is welcome to enlighten me, but unless I’m missing something, the dispute between single and double spacing advocates revolves around a typewriting convention that originally emulated emspacing, the prevailing typographic style for many centuries. The affects of justification on the examples are, in fact, mentioned in the article. Justification was usually handled by adjusting only the word spacing. Notice that even in the justified examples, the spacing after a period is proportionally wider than the spacing between words. Additionally, a non-justified example was appended to the article to address that very concern.

      Thanks for writing.

  40. Firstly: Great article Dave; fascinating commentary and it just goes to prove that something new is learnt everyday! It’s a wonderful bed-time read too… (my wife would vehemently disagree, but just another example of an alternative opinion). I’ll be following you on Facebook @ tdl

    In reply to Jeffrey Haste at Deerbrookeditions…
    Yes, I’ve not only heard of Jan Tschichold but was mentored by him when with Penguin Books. Guru and Genius he most certainly was.

    I agree with your comment that setters would throw in the extra space to fill a line for convenience rather than readability or design; but, in the majority of cases I would refer back to Dave’s shrewd observation that emdash spaces and double-spacing following a point faded fairly rapidly in the early 60’s. A very astute point… Yet, I can’t remember anyone turning round to me at that time, or at any stage of development, stating that single (or en space) was now the new rule/law. It just kind of evolved that way!

    Over the many years that have passed since those heady days at Penguin (and the fair few creative teams I’ve worked with to date) I have gathered and used a multitude (and then some) of typographic styles relevant to use, fashion and clarity; some styles and fonts a million miles away from Jan’s doctrine (and he wouldn’t have been shy to tell me so either). Not all typographic styles were successful, true; some were stunningly elegant, powerful, artistic and best of all effective; some even in my own judgement when viewed later were at best illegible, unsightly, ugly and even just downright hideous!

    From experiments, trends and fashions; and especially mistakes, we all grow richer in “style”. There is no right and wrong… only different; and in saying that I can declare that I’m not a “dinosaur obliterated by a meteor” more of a tree that bends and sways as wind directions change and even on occasion have had the good fortune to change a little of the wind direction myself. Although I can see a storm brewing when it comes to SMS and mobile technologies; but that in no way suggests my intolerance of alternative options, whether that’s sentence spacing/para spacing/drop caps or whatever… sometimes though, it’s better the devil you know.

    Oh, look at that …double-spaced t/out. They give my eyes a break, and after staring at type all my life they sure deserve it! LOL 😉


    Graham Brown

    • Thanks Graham. Excellent comment. It’s been suggested to me that it was Tschichold himself who dispensed with the emspace after a period at Penguin during his tenure there—long before phototypesetting machines began to make all the spaces in a line equivalent no matter what glyph they followed. Do you have any recollections to that effect?

      • Have worked in many composing rooms in factories, Colleges and Universities and practices vary considerably depending on a myriad of reasons. Ignorance, staff competence, pricing and costs, and skills, experience and knowledge of style. Some houses demand that staff stick rigidly to “House Style”, some do not know what a style is! Graphic Designers in my experience these days dictate their own style! Terms such as ranged left setting, justified setting or centred setting all seem to be closely related to Set Width as the main determinant of setting criteria. There are also cases of letterform widths determining style. I have also heard a lot about reading speeds being dually related to even the character stroke thickness and counter size. Many printers use as much spacing as they can to make more pages never mind saving paper! Last point, and I have many, later typewriters gave variable spacing and virtually was as good as phototypesetting! In all your discussions, please remember that this typography was carried with METAL TYPE !! The compositors in those days were magicians?

        Oh, and ‘the trade’ would call the full stop. . . . .a point.

        • I agree. Those hot metal typographers were artists and magicians. The unsettlable debate about whether writers should use one or two spaces is a lost cause but I think it’s important for digital typographers to dig deep and study what made metal typography elegant. The digital tools are fantastic but of what value are they if the old styles are lost?

          Thanks for your comments.

  41. thanks for the interesting article, dave. like all the other old-timers who posted comments, i learned to double space. i think one place it still has value is with the new trend of not capitalizing the first letter of a sentence. the extra space makes it easier to see where one sentence ends and the next begins. (the double spaces i am typing now will likely render as one, since this is being translated to HTML and that’s the way it works.)

    • Thanks, Jim. I have yet to see this “new trend” of avoiding caps though Herbert Bayer advocated for it at the Bauhaus school in Germany during the 30s. More than likely, during that time, the emspace was standard and (as you suggest) relied upon as a visible separator.

  42. people do what they will. Why regress to broken typography from centuries before with rivers of white space, not an added design feature when a period signifies the end of a sentence. Anybody ever hear of Jan Tschichold, or the fine press movement, fine typography? examples http://typographica.org/typography-books/explorations-in-typography-mastering-the-art-of-fine-typesetting/

    note that many cases sited have extra space due to the practice of justification when setters throw in space to fill out a line, not for readability or design.

    • Some people feel that the extra space helps to separate the sentence as an encapsulated thought. Others see rivers of white space. Certainly, anyone attempting to create authentic historicist design should employ the emspace. Wide spacing served typographers and readers for centuries. Though the style today is “officially” the single space, that doesn’t invalidate a much larger block of history. Whichever style you choose, awareness of historical context should inform the technique.

      As for the justified examples, notice that the spaces are still twice as wide as others in the same line. Once you get to phototypeset examples, the spaces, including those after a period, are opened equally to justify a given line.

        • After looking over this string again it seems to me that part of the conflict here is not about the difference between using one space or two after a period — it’s about the difference between typists and typesetters. If the publisher of my book chooses to change the spacing after my periods, as part of a considered use of font and style, that would not be problem for me. However, that doesn’t really have anything to do with the appearance of something which is merely typed – whether on a typewriter or in a word processing program – and then printed out or displayed on a screen.

  43. Interesting. This proves that I really don’t pay attention. But now I see that a lot of books use single spacing after the period. I’ve always used double spacing and was completely unaware of the debate

    • Me, too! I just found this out from a friend. I feel like I just came back from living on Mars. I learned “double space after a period” in my 1978 high school typing class as an immutable rule. Funny!

      • Double spaced has always been the rule. Finding post-1960 examples that largely stem from non-academic publications does not serve as a defense for an academic convention. Moreover, the APA calls for two spaces. Now it is true that the APA itself briefly fell prey to this pop-convention in the early 90s, but they have since reverted to the canonized tradition (as it should be). And accordingly, educators being under the umbrella of psychology and the APA should follow that rule in secondary pedagogy and collegiate pedagogy. Of course, there are those like you that break this convention and standard, but that is an illegitimate and callous disregard for accepted conventions in education. Moreover, this idea that scholarly writing has been this way for some time is absurd. The APA rule change never caught in secondary and college, and has still not caught on now. I suggest you do some scholarly research on secondary and college uses of the double space and suspect you will find the opposite of your contention. I could be wrong, but this sure seems to be pop-academic scholarship and, in my opinion, is totally ridiculous and offensive. No wonder the MLA and Chicago are so poo-poo-ed in academic circles. 😉 Kind regards … and go APA.

        • What boggles my mind is that anyone cares about this issue. Mainstream publishing abandoned wide spacing 60 years ago. You’ll find very few books using emspaces at a bookstore. As for academic publishing, the half-inch margins, typefaces (like Courier and Times) that lack the features needed for proper book design, and other archaic specifications seem rooted in the notion that good typography must imitate a typewriter. As my article suggests, if you’re bound to a style guide, follow it. If you like APA, use it. But as an academic who taught thesis writing to MFA Graphic Design students, I can assure you that the academic style specifications were a real impediment to students typesetting work to a standard that an undergrad wouldn’t fail a basic class over. My colleagues and I lobbied with the department head and the Dean to be allowed to adopt exceptions to the MLA style guide rules that would allow students to apply typographic best practices they’d be called upon to use in professional work. Academics can hate MLA and CMOS all they want (though I never met any design academics who hated one style guide more than another), but anyone with a basic knowledge of typography will suggest that they all – APA included – need some major revisions. The notion that real-world digital typography should bow to an outdated academic standard that has refused to adapt or evolve is what’s ridiculous and offensive. Scholarly writing is largely a typographic lost cause, and my article never suggested that the single-space standard was universally applicable in that area. Whether a particular writer wants to double-space or not is, in my opinion, trivial as long as the choice is rooted in something more substantive than “this is how it’s supposed to be done.”

  44. Interesting read, being a young man I never knew of or about the double space after a period. Since I grew up using the single space as the standard I don’t see that changing for me but I always find information like this enlightening. You never can know too much about the origins of anything in history that has brought us to the place we are at today. Great article again.


    • And yes, the Wikipedia article is excellent. In many cases, Wikipedia is not a trustable source but this seems to be a good one. Thank you.

  45. Interesting read. Thanks. I’ve been active in publishing since 1967 with the high school newspaper. I saw the two spaces disappear from our publishing house policy manual (which I wrote) in 1993, when my research and publishing center at Penn collaborated with the American Psychological Association (APA) Style Book policymakers to drop the two spaces at multiple levels. What drove that push, especially on my part, was multifaceted. Design was as important as content. We learned that people would read our messages more often and more intently if we made it more pleasing to the eye, more engaging with graphic design. We learned that even though the words were important, the entire package was just as important. We turned dry academic writing into engaging policy-changing publications. Plus we learned we had enormous control over that design of the words and images on the page without going through a distant typesetter who only worked with putting the words on the paper. The two spaces did not aesthetically “fit” in the page, and often, every iota of space was critically important because we needed control. If we consistently used the one space after periods and saw that we needed to spread out the text/spacing for design purposes, we could manipulate the text in other ways to get a more even contextual balance. I have often redesigned “old” text, “old” publications, “old” policy manuals into new designs that made the world and even close-nit employees think they were reading something totally new and absorbed it in new ways. Writing/design/images/sounds/movement/ambiance continue to meld into new communication,almost in a future-shock format for us old-timers who can remember working with the hot metal.To me, it is fascinating. But I do like the idea of knowing the rules now to break them and use two spaces again, if it suited the specific design purpose to do so.

    • Isn’t contrast an important element of design? Single spacing after the end-of-sentence punctuation eliminates this contrast. I find the single spaced text to be aesthetically monotonous; good design doesn’t need to resort to this level of monotony for the sake of “control.” Like Barbara H., I find that the double space after the period alerts my eye/brain to the end of an idea. The added bit of white space – also a design element – makes the text easier to read.

      I think the perceived need for control down to this level squelches creativity. It might as well be decreed that good style and aesthetic sensibility in print means that all sentences should contain the same number of letters and spaces. Or perhaps we should do as was done in the ancient world and use no punctuation and no spaces between words. I suppose we could get used to that; however, as soon as there was less need to conserve writing material, punctuation and space evolved, and have served the text, and readers, well.

      I am not giving in, and I am not apologizing for not giving in.

  46. Thanks for this article! I have been wondering about this. I was strongly taught the 2 spaces after a period style. I graduated from high school in 1968. I graduated from college and took occasional graduate level classes up until 1995 – always using the double space with no comments from professors. About 10 years ago, I noticed my high school students using one space. I corrected them and made them do 2 spaces. I thought it was just laziness and lack of attention to detail. I just wrote my first book and; yep, they changed all my 2 spaces to one space. I like the old way because it notifies my brain that there is a stronger break after a period than a comma – which, of course, the punctuation itself tells me – but it accentuates that visually. Notice one space after periods in this comment. I am giving in…

  47. It will take me a while (maybe never) before I ever write it as “awhile!”
    When I learned to type in the the 1950s, it was strictly two spaces after a period. Spacing was not as much of a problem on my portable Olivetti as was capitalization which forced me to hold down the full weight of the carriage with my pinky while striking the correct letter. That led to very tired pinkies for any lengthy research paper!

  48. Fascinating to see the things which incite passionate discussion. (And occasional misguided vitriol.)

    Your research and clear thinking makes this one of my favorite places to visit, Dave. Thanks.

  49. NOTE TO READERS: I will be offline until April 6 without phone or email access. Your comments and critique are appreciated but I won’t be able to approve and display them (all non-spam comments get approved an displayed) until April 6. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  50. Dave, I really enjoyed your article (and the ensuing discussions perhaps even more so)! I’d like to add one more thing to consider, however — my explanation for the wide spacing after periods in your samples prior to 1961 is that the text is both hand-set and justified. If you’ve ever handset type in a composing stick (as I have), you’ll find that the spaces between sentences are a very handy place to jam in the extra furniture needed to tighten up the line. Your sample from 1961 is notably rag-right, so there’s no compelling reason to make the space between sentences into a dumping ground for spacers…

    • True but see the addendum at the bottom. Others levied the same criticism so I dug a but deeper. The last example is fully justified and the spaces between words are the same as the spaces after periods. See what you think (and thanks for writing).

      • Yes, I did examine the addendum — but my guess is that this text was set with a Linotype machine, not hand-set like the earlier examples…my point being that the elimination of extra spaces was a function of the movement away from text that was BOTH hand-set and justified, a condition which applied to the majority of printed materials (other than newspapers) created prior to the 1950s.

        • Clearly, resolving this will require a larger sample of texts that are known to be printed in different ways. But I do have some linotype-set books with emspaces (you can’t be certain but they’re usually set in multiples of 32 characters). Good observations, Hal. Let me know if you find anything interesting to add.

          Cheers, Dave

  51. This was wonderful! As an editor for a magazine and several websites I am constantly removing the double spaces after periods. I laughed out loud when you stated that the typesetter would remove them, as I sure do. But not only the double spaces. We have a style sheet that we strictly follow and we expect articles submitted to follow too. So often this is not the case. For instance, we don’t want indented paragraphs, but instead, a double line space between them. Each time I receive an article I go through and do an auto find and replace of all these issues before I get down to the task of making magic with the words. Thanks for the article!

  52. This is a really fascinating debate, Dave. Hey, and for the first time in a life-time I’ve used only one space after the full-stop/period. Spooky, I must have been assimilated. Or maybe I have been able to fight off the Borg. Phew, got a little confused there.

  53. Fascinating read! Personally my brain prefers the double space. Often I find my eyes darting back after passing over a single space at the end of a sentence. As if my brain is saying, “Wait! Was that the end, did I see it right?”

    Also, when submitting to a publisher for publication it seems important to adhere to their particular preferences. I’ve always wondered though if it really matters in terms of getting something accepted for publication. Seems like good ideas and creativity would almost always trump punctuation.

  54. The purpose for two spaces at the end of a sentence is to distinguish the period at the end of a sentence from the period after an abbreviation. I will never change to one space.

    • Modern usage is to exclude periods from abbreviations; an excellent progression. Therefore the double space is no longer needed in books, but I use it for daily writing.

      • One point I meant to mention in my previous comment is that the space and extra space served an important indicator for a pause. One of my first jobs around 1960 was as a broadcast journalist and also a stringer for United Press operating an old-fashioned teletype machine. Two spaces following the period after a sentence indicated a pause long enough for a breath by the newsreader and enough time to count to one mentally. The single space indicated no breath, the same as between words, so that the news script flowed with no break. A paragraph break was a breath long enough for you to count to two mentally.

        Because many local radio and television station did not have their own news staff, teletype copy was “rip and read” so the two space rule carried over to United Press and is also mentioned in early editions of the “AP (Associated Press) Stylebook.”

        • I’m liking this idea of the emspace as something that helps encapsulate a sentence as a thought that’s distinct from the paragraph that contains it. I’m not sure I like it visually bit it seems to have a certain value as far as a communication device. Thanks for sharing.

    • I totally agree with you, Maralyn. I began word processing on a Micom dedicated word processor back in the Seventies, and the Micom program defined a sentence as a string of words ending with a sentence-ending punctuation mark (. or ? or !) FOLLOWED BY TWO SPACES.

      Also, two spaces between sentences eliminates the (admittedly rare) possibility of the reader being confused when a sentence ends with a punctuated abbreviation such as “Dr.” and the next sentence after the single space begins with “Jones…”. Is it:
      “… Dr. Jones” [a name] or
      “… Dr. Jones” [the “Dr.” ending of one sentence and the “Jones” beginning of the other sentence]?

      And, it is simply more logical that one space separates words, two spaces separate sentences, and a new line separates paragraphs.

      I also saw somewhere that it was computer programmers who started this single inter-sentence spacing in the Sixties because they could not allow double spacing in their code, and they simply carried that coding style over to their other typing, and some non-programmers followed.

      I am currently writing a style manual for a small company, and you can bet that I will be encouraging them to be logical in their style, not merely compliant to recent fashion.

  55. Minimum of two for me, always, it’s not a style choice either. The real issue is how the brain perceives the difference between a comma and a period. When you read your brain actually takes only “imprints” of what you can visually grasp at a glance. As a result, your brain recognizes impressions of borders and outlines. This is why some fonts are easier to read than others, and also why the internet is rife with misspellings and 1337 speak.

    Double Spacing allows for people to more easily recognize a hard break in the cantor of the speech or narrative. It’s also an visual reminder that the comma is a short breath while a period is a definitive pause.

    And yes, I use this reasoning as a definitive control of how my readers even breathe when they read my books. The best way to determine if my comedy or action sequences are successful is by giving people excerpts and watching their physical reactions. John Rocket fight scenes cause almost all readers to squint their eyes, furrow their brows, flush red and breathe quicker, while comedy scenes in Andrew Colon force people to hold their breaths and laugh where I place the punctuation – not at any other time. Single Spacing always disrupts what I am trying to accomplish because the reader’s brain literally has to slow down in order to determine if the space was a period or a comma.

    Sometimes justification or special fonts forces me to alter this approach in order to get the desired effect, but that is rare.

    • This is design rather than blind rules-following. It may not be standard form but it’s a well-reasoned aesthetic approach. Thank you.

      • Well, in the end, outside of a technical manual, isn’t literature supposed to be aesthetic and design based in order to force readers to feel emotions at the appropriate time? ;D

        btw, tyvm 🙂

  56. Two spaces was a feature of typewriting with all characters the same width whether on a 1920’s vintage manual typewriter or on a 1970’s IBM Selectric—though I cannot figure out why, since a tiny period (.) took up a lot of space before the next sentence. The break was clear and no need to emphasize it.

    Two spaces when set in type makes for holes that slow down reading and look lousy. They break up typographic “color.”

    BTW in America it’s period close-quote. I think in Britain it’s close-quote period. Full stop! I mean, period.

  57. This is an absurd discussion! Who doesn’t adhere to a style manual? What kind of question or statement is that? Having this discussion is another reason self-publishing should be outlawed or least banished to a mall, Applebees, or “American Idol.” Self-publishnig (vanity press)–the downfall of literature. Another reason self-publishing requires hiring a professional editor. And not your best friend who teaches high school English.

    It’s one space. Also,when you submit your mss to a publishing house (please Google that) it has to be formatted, at least in some organized way. Something lost in the world of self-publishng (vanity press).

    The documents used as examples, I think that at the time they were published, women were oppressed and slavery was still legal.

    Not everyone should be writing a book.

    • Your productive contribution to the conversation will be appreciated by all the readers here. Please do not post on my blog again. Disagreement, debate, and critique is welcome here but I have no room for vitriol.

    • You make your concept of ‘real’ publishing sound like some Holy Grail to be sought after by ‘real writers’! As if publishers are some kind of mighty race with favours to bestow upon mere mortals such as us…!

      Much of what you say misses the point of the discussion entirely, degrading into a bit of an off-topic rant. From ‘how many spaces’ to ‘not everyone should be writing a book’? Whilst I don’t disagree with the latter point, I don’t see much of a connection.

      ‘Having this discussion is another reason self-publishing should be outlawed…’

      Ha! Good one… You *were* joking, right?

    • It’s a funny sort of “meta” that in the sentence “Self-publishnig (vanity press)–the downfall of literature” this (self-published, as it were) comment contains a typo…. (one of at least four in the comment, actually)

  58. In 1957 at typing school, using manual typewriters we always put two spaces between a full stop and the begining of the next sentence. In 1999 when I was learning publishing design using PageMaker one of the first things I was corrected on was that only one space was used after a fullstop. I think when we consider modern fonts, and how we put words onto pages, or websites in 2013 one space is all that is necessary. It looks better than two, and is easier to read in my view…

  59. Since I became involved in writing and publishing books, the space saving and cost effective debate over single space vs. double space has been my practice. It took awhile to break the double space habit from writing for 40 years.

  60. Fascinating! I usually jokingly tell authors that the only time we learn to put two spaces after a period is in school, after which we are promptly told to forget it. Those years and years of learned muscle memory make it difficult to fight the double-thumb-click urge. I never really knew where the double-space convention came from in the first place.

    Thanks so much for a fascinating article. Love the examples! (I must admit: never have I seen an em dash followed by a comma. Guess I need to beef up my collection of Spanish books from the 1950s…)

    • Thanks for reading. Not long ago, I was one of the single-space know-it-alls. Though I still use single spaces, I’m a bit more tolerant of the emspace than I was before. Passé or not, it’s a grand old tradition.

  61. When I learned to type in the ’50s, it was considered an “error” not to have 2 spaces after a period. It’s like breathing to me. Although I found the article very interesting, I doubt any thing I might read could change the style I have used all these years. In fact, the use of one space, creates an urge in me to edit!

    • No worries. Old habits die hard. Your typesetter will convert everything for you or your eBook will disregard all spaces after the first one. You will be assimilated.

  62. Very interesting! I was taught to type in the 1980s using two spaces following a full stop. Having spent 25 years working in the publishing industry, i ‘unlearnt’ this rule and now only use one and yes, when I see two it does look like a gaping hole to me! Your Spanish piece in Fig. 7, by the way, is punctuated correctly with the space before the first em dash and the comma after the second in this instance, since the comma would be necessary in this sentence even if the em dash and enclosed text were not included. Another interesting piece of information on spaces before ; ? ! etc. is that these have been re-adopted into the French language since the late 1990s.

    • Thanks for both of those clarifications. This is all fairly granular “type geek” stuff, so I enjoy learning from readers who can offer insights.

      • I was a typesetter from the late 1970s until the early 1990s, working on mainframe computers (at the advent of desktop I moved to editorial). I was a formatter, which meant I marked up the ms for the data-input with my formats, programmed the computer with the formats I had written, massaged the raw data files, and paginated the book. Part of massaging raw data files was getting rid of any instances of two spaces, which manuscripts almost invariably had. However, the computer recognized a period (or other end-of-sentence) as an instance where additional space would FIRST be added in justification. How much extra space relative to how much space had to be justified on a line was controlled by the type compositor (typesetting house). The extra space automatically added after any end-of-sentence punctuation was specified as a minimum number of points or units (small divisions of space, divisions of a “pica”) and a maximum percentage of the space left to be justified. If the machine could not meet our specifications and justify the line automatically, an error msg was generated and I would solve the problem by hand. How much extra space was a matter of taste– it was generally agreed that older books often had way too much extra space, but exactly the correct proportion was a matter of great interest and debate. Accordingly, everyone I ever worked with in the publishing establishment added extra space at the end of sentences. In Figure 9, if the original were measured with the correct instrument, you may find that the spaces after the final punctuation marks are slightly bigger than the standard wordspace; but if not, there was a great deal of experimentation in the quest to find the golden ratio, and fine typography was always in competition with lesser quality.

        With the advent of desktop, there was initially very little control over spacing between words or indeed over kerning at all (we’d had access to the kerning tables and custom-built them to create our house style for each font and weight and sometimes according to the type of paper to be printed on). The capacity to specify the extra additional space at the end of sentences was lost entirely. There are many other tiny details of traditional publishing practices that were lost in the transition to desktop (some of which have been returned, sometimes in much-limited form), but that’s another subject. But that is, I believe, why the art of the slightly larger space at the end of sentences was lost. Adding to this was the dictum in the early days of email to “limit the bandwidth” of one’s messages and people would scold you for including two spaces. Thus even hand-typed (not typeset) communication lost the extra space that makes it easier to read.

        Our composition house was known for exquisite attention to detail and for the tasteful adaptation of traditional typographic practices. One of these was the addition of 3 units of space (a division of the point) before colons, semicolons, exclamation points, and question marks. It was a refinement that was held in high regard by our clients. It makes a huge difference in legibility to have that tiny extra openness. (We also had extensive kerning for various punctuation combinations.)

        When emailing, I often put a space before a question mark simply because the tiny sans-serif letters of emails often swallow up punctuation and I want to be sure my reader sees I am asking a question. Interesting to hear that the practice of extra space is being used in French. If you look at the examples above, the extra space before the punctuation marks is not a whole space, possibly a thin space.

  63. The author asserts: “The style, since about 1960, has been to use a single-space after a period.”

    While that may be, it does not gibe with my experience. In 1960 I was a freshman in high school. One of my high school courses was typing. In the course we were instructed that 2 spaces always followed a period. Where my teachers wrong?

    The single space after a period is a space/cost saving device, and nothing more, IMHO!

    • No, your teachers were instructing you to emulate a typographic standard that existed at the time but which has since changed. All this is covered in the article—including links to style manuals; you might find it an interesting read.

      • And of course the format used when writers typed articles didn’t necessarily bear any relation to the typographical style adopted by a publisher for publication.

        • Yes, but today, manuscript prep is a different process; typewriters are no longer part of the equation and writers need to learn that a word processor is a different animal.

      • I learned to type in the early 90s in high school. I was also taught 2 spaces, and then again, when I learned manuscript format for submissions, I was told many times over that I needed to use 2 spaces after sentences. Seems the dissonance continues even up to now. I really liked the look of the wider spacing in the samples you provided. (I love the look of older books.) Although I’ve been using single spacing after paragraphs for years now, at least since I started coding HTML, etc, I am really tempted to try a design using the double spaces just to see how much I’d Iike it. It’s beautiful, and so easy on the eyes.

  64. Very interesting survey. I worked on a highly successful film magazine in the UK, Empire, that was using a space before a semicolon and before a colon in the 1990s. I don’t know if the magazine has changed its style since, but it shows that there was — perhaps still is — at least one publication out there using idiosyncratic spacing that, as you show, actually has a precedent. No one working on the magazine could explain why the space was used; it was just house style.

    • Neither your anecdote not my article change anything but at least proponents of either style will hopefully find some foundation for their preferences.

  65. Thank you for this much needed and fully documented article that clears up several major questions for us old-timers. I still have to think (and edit) my writing for spacing after periods and colons. The “Chicago Manual of Style” and the “AP Stylebook” both now cite that the convention is a single space after each, but as I first learned to type in the 1950’s, I was taught that it was “law” to use two spaces after each. Even writing this, I found that I used two spaces after each period and had to go back and “correct” them.

    I originally taught myself to type (two fingers) in the early 1950’s. When I hit high school, my father forced me to take a typing class where I had to make at least an “A” (the only boy in a class with 26 girls). His reasoning was that it would come in handy when I went to college. What actually happened was that in 58 years of working for a living, I have never held a job where typing was not helpful if not required.

    One thing that is not brought out; most publishers have their own style rules for submissions. Know your publisher’s requirements before submitting a manuscript because they are all different. I have had to develop macros over the years to “correct” style “errors” in my submissions to conform to what each publisher/editor expects.

    There is also a need for clarification about the space surrounding an emdash. The article shows an emdash in several places, but the spacing is different in each. In one case there is a space before and in another there is a space after. I have found that most publishers prefer a space both before and after.

    I would also like to see an article regarding “rules” for typesetting on the Internet. These are totally different than for print (paragraph indents, etc.).

    • As you say, the publisher’s standards are king. Spacing around emdashes is usually built into the typeface but some typographers like to add a bit extra. For me, that takes up more space in an already wide piece of punctuation but as is shown, typographic style is elastic and constantly evolving. An Internet typesetting article is forthcoming but will have to wait until I reveal something new I’m working on.

      • Some authorities insist that the em dash should be attached to the letters before and after the dash with no visible space. Those on that side of the argument include the Oxford University Press, the Chicago Manual of Style, and Aaron Shepard, author of several books on self-publishing.

        The New York Times puts a space before and after each em dash.

        I previously decreed that without the space, it looks like the dash is connecting to a letter or a word; but with a little space, the dash appears, more properly, to be connected to an entire thought.

        After formatting a few books as the Times does, I decided that the spaces look weird and changed my style.