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 — 170 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.” (

  7. 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!! 😀

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Pingback: Punctuation Sticklers & Spelling Police, Untie!

  11. 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.

  12. 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 olé 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

  21. 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 :-)

  22. 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.

  23. 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!

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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?

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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:

  32. 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.

  33. 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…

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

        • 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.

  39. 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!

  40. 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.


  41. 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.

  42. 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…

  43. 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!

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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

  47. 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!

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

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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)

  55. 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…

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

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