How Many Spaces After a Period? Ending the Debate

spaces after periodFew sub­jects arouse more pas­sion among writ­ers and design­ers than the debate over how many spaces should fol­low a period. If you adhere to a style man­ual, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t spec­ify a single-space. Chicago and MLA spec­ify one—debate ended—but the pop­u­lar argu­ments in sup­port of the single-space after a period (argu­ments I must con­fess to hav­ing per­pet­u­ated in pre­vi­ous writ­ings) turn out to be mostly apoc­ryphal. The single-space after a period is a sim­ple style evolution—and it’s a fairly recent one. This leaves tra­di­tion­al­ist type­set­ters like myself in some­thing of a quandary; staunch advo­cates for the single-space must ques­tion whether their “clas­sic” design work is authentic.

This arti­cle sur­veys book typog­ra­phy from the 1700s to the present. The sur­vey is small and the exam­ples come from var­i­ous pub­lish­ers in dif­fer­ent parts of the world, but the trends revealed are, at least, a cat­a­lyst for deeper explo­ration. As a “core sam­ple,” the images sug­gest a cer­tain path of typo­graph­i­cal evolution.

One Space After a Period: The Mythology

The type­writer came of age dur­ing the late 19th cen­tury. The mech­a­nism relied on gears that advanced the car­riage a sin­gle gear tooth each time a key was pressed. This means that a let­ter i occu­pied as much paper as a let­ter w; non-proportional type­faces were devel­oped to close gaps that would be more obvi­ous if a tra­di­tional type­face was used. Still, there was no way to nest let­ters into one another.

typewriter text spacing

Proponents of the single-space argue that dig­i­tal type­faces have appro­pri­ate spac­ing already built into each let­ter­form. Quality type­faces have exten­sive kern­ing tables that gov­ern the default spac­ing between dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of glyphs (this is part of the “you get what you pay for” fac­tor asso­ci­ated with font soft­ware; free fonts are usu­ally either stolen or lack the exhaus­tive work needed to pro­duce ele­gant kern­ing with­out exten­sive man­ual adjust­ment). Adding a double-space goes against the type designer’s inten­tions as spac­ing between a period and the fol­low­ing sen­tence has already been taken into consideration.

The argu­ment for the single-space sounds com­pelling. The claimed tran­si­tion from type­writer text to dig­i­tal typog­ra­phy cre­ates an “easy out” for those who were taught to double-space in the days before com­put­ers. But though the sup­posed his­tory is log­i­cal, book design­ers and print­ers were using pro­por­tional type­faces and wide spaces long before the type­writer entered the scene.

Moreover, the choice of whether or not to use a double-space on a type­writer was always, itself, a mat­ter of style and con­ven­tion. A period typed on a type­writer will print on the left side of the space and leave plenty of room to the right before the next sen­tence begins. The non-proportional dig­i­tal type­face argu­ment is an inter­est­ing dis­trac­tion that ulti­mately fails to either sup­port or dis­cour­age use of the double-space. And the argu­ment that dig­i­tal type­faces have built-in spac­ing lends itself to the notion that writ­ers shouldn’t have to type any spaces after a period. Clearly, that’s not the case.

Two Spaces After a Period: A Typographic Tradition

A brief note on ter­mi­nol­ogy: the “dou­ble space” (no hyphen) requires two con­sec­u­tive space char­ac­ters to be struck on a key­board. The “double-space” (with a hyphen), or “wide space” is a sin­gle, wide char­ac­ter that’s more prop­erly referred to as an “emspace” like its cousin, the emdash.

The fol­low­ing exam­ples show that tra­di­tional type­set­ters (with­out type­writ­ers) used the double-space—actually an emspace—as a con­ven­tion early on. I’ve cir­cled peri­ods in red along with a few other typo­graph­i­cal odd­i­ties in green. Apparently, a num­ber of typo­graphic ele­ments have been sub­ject to styl­is­tic evo­lu­tion over the centuries.

1787 Page

fig­ure 1

In Figure 1 (1787), the emspaces are evi­dent in red. Note also (in green) the spaces before the semi­colons and the strange space–colon–emdash com­bi­na­tion (green, upper right) that are no longer seen in today’s typography.

1840s page

fig­ure 2

Figure 2 (1840s) shows con­tin­ued use of emspaces and con­tin­ued use of the space (green) before the semi­colon. (The sub­ject mat­ter is also of interest).

1855 page

Figure 3

Figure 3 (1855) shows the styles to be unchanged.

1876 Page

Figure 4

Figure 4 (1876) offers no sur­prises. The wide spaces after peri­ods con­tinue. Clearly this style is no pass­ing fad. When did things change?

1892 Page

Figure 5

Figure 5 (1892) shows the wide space after a period to be alive and well dur­ing the Victorian period. Notice the inter­est­ing hyphen­ation (green) of a word which is now com­pound. (I own a children’s book from 1909 that hyphen­ates “today” as “to-day.”) The fig­ures reveal sub­tle style changes that define the cor­rect usage and authen­tic appear­ance of their times.

1928 Page

Figure 6

Figure 6 jumps ahead to 1928. Same thing.

1959 Page

Figure 7

Figure 7, a Spanish book cover back from 1959 shows the wide space and an unusual comma after the emdash. As this is a rel­a­tively con­tem­po­rary piece, I don’t know if this punc­tu­a­tion is a mis­take, a style con­ven­tion, or accept­able Spanish lan­guage type­set­ting. The space before the first emdash is also unusual.

1960 Page

Figure 8

Figure 8 (1960) is from a book by the poet, E.E. Cummings. Though the poet was known to take typo­graph­i­cal lib­er­ties, this looks like straight­for­ward use of the double-space.

1961 Page

Figure 9

And then, in 1961, things begin to change (fig­ure 9). A wider sur­vey will likely reveal the style change tak­ing place over sev­eral years and at dif­fer­ent times in dif­fer­ent places, but I found no exam­ples of single-spaces being used after peri­ods prior to 1960.

1963 Layout

Figure 10


Figures 10 and 11 (1963 and 1964 respec­tively) are notable because the type is fea­tured on graphic design jour­nals of that time, sug­gest­ing that the design com­mu­nity had accepted the single-space as a standard.

Could it be that the single-space was adopted by the book indus­try as a paper-saving mea­sure? Though it existed as early as the mid-19th cen­tury, the paper­back book turned lit­er­a­ture into a mass-market com­mod­ity dur­ing the 1930s. Publishers devel­oped huge dis­tri­b­u­tion chains that required print runs of tens of thou­sands of books; type size shrank along with lead­ing (line spac­ing) and page mar­gins. Mass-deployment by the pub­lish­ing indus­try would explain the rapid accep­tance of a spac­ing design that ran con­trary to cen­turies of tradition.

Single-space or double-space After a Period?

The style, since about 1960, has been to use a single-space after a period; it’s fair to say this is the work­ing typo­graphic stan­dard. The adop­tion of that stan­dard by major style man­u­als more or less cod­i­fies the single-space into law. And if you have any doubt, check your own book­shelf; you’ll be hard-pressed to find text with double-spaces after periods.

Contemporary typog­ra­phers and read­ers are accus­tomed to tighter text. 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. Designers tuned to the single-space stan­dard see gaps in the text that dis­turb the visual flow.

But the double-space is a tra­di­tion that abruptly faded not so long ago—certainly within the life­times of many of today’s active writ­ers. Though no longer in stan­dard use, the emspace may be a sim­ple sac­ri­fice to indus­try. Given that con­text, along with the facts that type­writ­ers and dig­i­tal typog­ra­phy are largely irrel­e­vant to the dis­cus­sion, it becomes dif­fi­cult to argue that the double-space is sim­ply “wrong.” It’s not dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that typog­ra­phers and read­ers once looked upon those gaps as wel­come sen­tence sep­a­ra­tors. Designers who wish to pro­duce authen­tic his­tori­cist work should con­sider using the double-space after a period.

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, they may be heart­ened to learn that intel­lec­tual argu­ments against the old style are mostly con­trived. At worst, the wide space after a period is a vic­tim of fashion.


Several read­ers have sug­gested that my post-1961 exam­ples are left-justified while all the pre­ced­ing exam­ples are full-justified—not a fair comparison.


In Figure 12 (1966) above, the space widths vary but they are con­sis­tent across each line (except for one emspace after a ques­tion mark). In the line marked with a red arrow, I inserted iden­ti­cal pairs of green lines into each space. The spaces, even after adjust­ment to accom­mo­date full-justification, are clearly shown to be sin­gle spaces.

Likely, the “mete­orite” that sud­denly ended the long rule of the emspace “dinosaurs” was Phototypesetting, a tech­nol­ogy that rapidly dis­placed hot metal type dur­ing the 1960s in much the same way that “desk­top pub­lish­ing” took over dur­ing the late 1980s. The emspace was not a vic­tim of fash­ion or indus­try; tech­nol­ogy was the cat­a­lyst for rapid change.

As this arti­cle receives sev­eral hun­dred vis­its every day, I’d be remiss if I didn’t refer read­ers to Thomas Fine’s excel­lent arti­cle, Sentence Spacing: A Typographic Counter-Revolution for an in-depth expla­na­tion of the tech­ni­cal ori­gins of spac­ing conventions.



How Many Spaces After a Period? Ending the Debate — 103 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.)

    • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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:

  9. 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.

  10. 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…

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

    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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.


  18. 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.

  19. 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…

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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

  24. 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!

  25. Pingback: Of Smart Quotes, Dashes, and Double Spaces… - Book Cover Illustrations

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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)

  32. 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…

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

      • 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

Leave a Reply