Mighty Red Pen

July 1, 2009

The space(s) between

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 7:31 pm
Tags: ,

SgtGrayMatter dares to raise that old question: one space or two after a period?:

Apparently, there has been a debate going for quite some time now about whether one or two spaces should come after a period.  I never knew this was a point of contention.  I have always been taught two, have always used two, and two will probably forever be etched into my mind as the right way.  Now I’m hearing that all those stylebooks I assumed would back me up on this have turned traitor.  I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

Being a lady of a certain age, MRP is old enough to have taken typing lessons (on a typewriter) back in the day when two spaces always followed a period. Having smoothly made the transition to computerized word processing, I have fully abandoned the two spaces and never looked back really. But I get that it’s a habit.

Chicago Manual of Style says (don’t be distracted by the beginning of this, it was a question about colons the morphed into a response about colons and periods):

A. One space after a colon. There is a traditional American practice, favored by some, of leaving two spaces after colons and periods. This practice is discouraged by the University of Chicago Press, especially for formally published works and the manuscripts from which they are published.

The AP Stylebook also prefers one space after a period, as does the Modern Language Association. The Angry Grammarian offers this, er, erudite commentary:

A million years ago, when people used typewriters, every character took up the same amount of space, so two spaces were needed to help set off sentences. It made the text flow better, and was easier on the eyes.

But now that we have pre-kerning (or, to use a similarly inside-baseball term, proportional spacing), two spaces is obsolete. The eyes are drawn to the gaping white space between the sentences rather than to the sentences themselves.

The bottom line, I think, is that it’s not a matter of grammar but of typographical preference. There is actually a decent discussion of this on the Wikipedia entry for this topic.

I’d be interested to hear what all of you think about this, though. Are you comfy using one space after a period or old habits (still) die hard with you on this one?

14 Comments »

  1. Wow. This was news to me.

    I have always used one space. I tried two .

    Can’t do it!

    Comment by Brian D. Horne — July 1, 2009 @ 10:17 pm | Reply

  2. A number of PerfectIt users have requested that we add a feature to automatically convert two spaces to one. We’ll almost certainly add the feature soon, but we left it out of the first version specifically because tempers in this typographical debate run so high!

    Comment by iEditor — July 2, 2009 @ 7:11 am | Reply

  3. Personally, I have gotten away from the two spaces, even though I am old enough to have been using them a long time, because I was trained before the days of the computer.
    I think this is mostly because I now edit two user group newsletters, and am constantly editing submissions, especially from those who learned in the typewriter age. I do this with a find and replace function in either MS Word or OpenOffice.org Writer, and also use the same function to remove the double paragraph marks, another holdover from the typewriter days.
    I understand these are hard habits to break, but they are not that much of an issue to me as an editor, due to the ease of correcting.

    Comment by sefcug — July 2, 2009 @ 9:51 am | Reply

  4. I never took typing lessons, but I habitually use the double space. I’ve been trying hard to break myself of the habit. (Even as I wrote that last sentence I ended it with a double space.) Notably, HTML never renders more than one space unless you explicitly use the non-breaking space entity, so that helps if you’re writing to the web.

    Comment by tk. — July 2, 2009 @ 9:52 am | Reply

  5. I use one space and it always drives me crazy when people use two, because it just looks glaring to me. I do recall using two spaces on my word processor back in the day, but it started to just look bad to me in the computer age. Maybe I’ll show this to my husband and see if I can’t break him of the habit.

    Comment by windycityguide — July 6, 2009 @ 9:17 am | Reply

  6. I learned to type on a manual typewriter and indeed picked up the habit of using two spaces after a period (or other sentence-ending punctuation, but never colons) there. Now that I’ve completely transitioned to a computer, I still use two spaces. This is mostly out of habit, but there are some technical issues at play here.

    First, when I’m reading monospaced text on a computer screen (like email — I *abhor* HTML email and happily use a text-only email client) I find the double-space between sentences easier to read. Perhaps this is only because I’m used to it, though.

    Second: when I’m writing significant chunks of prose, like an academic paper or my recently-completed dissertation, I use LaTeX. It and other TeX variants ignore the precise amount of whitespace entered by the author (much like HTML, as a commenter pointed out above). However, TeX and its descendants use a heuristic to detect the ends of sentences and various other places and *automatically* insert a little extra space (though not as much as a full inter-word space) between the period or other closing punctuation and the start of the following sentence. This is independent of whether the author uses one space or two.

    Third: I use the Emacs text editor for all but the simplest writing tasks. In addition to the normal cursor movement commands (forward-character, forward-word, forward-line), it also has forward-sentence and backward-sentence commands, and it relies on the additional space to distinguish sentence-ending periods from periods in abbreviations in the middle of a sentence.

    Comment by Richard — July 7, 2009 @ 11:28 am | Reply

  7. I’m still relatively young (22) and all through school, I was taught the two space rule.
    It wasn’t until I got into newspapers that I had to break the habit and go one space. Now, seeing two spaces vexes me.

    Comment by Jess — July 7, 2009 @ 1:12 pm | Reply

  8. I learned to type with two spaces (I’m not that old, but my typing class in junior high still had typewriters). Even at the time I knew that it was an outdated convention that I would not be using in the real world, and I thought it was silly that they were still teaching us that practice. Once I got out of that class and started typing on a computer, it took me all of a week or two to break the habit and go back to using one space. I’ve always found it a little surprising that so many people are so attached to their two spaces and have a hard time letting go of them.

    Comment by Jonathon — July 7, 2009 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  9. Two spaces can actually be a hindrance when you are sending out HTML emails or are dealing with a database of written content. I often edit newsletters and blogs and have experienced problems with email inboxes and databases interpreting the extra space character ( ) in unfortunate ways. So, to all of you writers out there, save your web editors some hassle and use just one space.

    Comment by Amanda Cullen — July 14, 2009 @ 10:26 am | Reply

  10. In American book publishing the standard is one space after punctuation. Always. We reject manuscripts that are sent to us with two spaces. Or at least make the editorial assistants clean up the file so that they all go away. My understanding that the two-space practice originated before there were fixed-spaced fonts and it was a workaround so that there weren’t ugly crashes between punctuation and the letter that followed.

    Comment by Ray Gunn — July 30, 2009 @ 7:57 pm | Reply

  11. Apologies: my understanding is that

    Comment by Ray Gunn — July 30, 2009 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

  12. […] The Space(s) Between byMighty Red Pen […]

    Pingback by Let’s Talk Grammar | Build A Better Blog — September 13, 2009 @ 10:16 pm | Reply

  13. One. Period.

    Comment by P@MELA — August 6, 2011 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

  14. I leave 2 spaces. 1 space after colons, semi colons and commas. I learned this from the nuns and while I reject their theology I stand by their grammar and punctuation.

    Comment by Nancy Bloch — January 31, 2016 @ 11:38 am | Reply


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