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Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces After a Period

timv's picture

Typography war on Slate!:

Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste.


What galls me about two-spacers isn't just their numbers. It's their certainty that they're right.

No subtle gradations here:

Type professionals can get amusingly—if justifiably—overworked about spaces. "Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong," Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studio, once wrote. "When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay," she told me. "I talk about 'type crimes' often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It's a pure sign of amateur typography."

I can't say that I recall noticing any unrepentant two-spacers in my history of correspondance. But I don't know whether that's because my circle of acquaintances don't do it or because it never occured to me to pay attention to it. Personally I guess I'm too slack to bother hitting the space bar more than once. I've never been tempted.


roadskater's picture

My Corona...Smith Corona That Is

The first time I saw any use of two spaces after a period was of course in typing class, which I didn't attend but joined in by using the typing course book on my own. I remember thinking it crazy to need an extra space when there was a period there, but must have conformed at least at times when a teacher expected it. I remember using my dad's "harvest gold" electric Smith Corona (SCM) typewriter many nights. My most striking memory was when working on a paper for some class, above the hum of the typewriter I heard strange drum beats and long-sustaining electric guitars...my brother had just brought home the new album (yes, a vinyl LP) by a band named Boston. It was a different sound than we could make with our guitars at the time.

Once I got my first computer, in 1981 or so...a Commodore 64...I am certain I quit with the two spaces after periods just to make it easier to rearrange paragraphs and sentences. I recall searching and replacing ".  " with ". " as one of the last steps before turning something in, as I still had the two-space habit I guess. 

Not long after that, with the first Macs and Windows 3.11 whatever that was called...the latter with WordPerfect and especially with the advent of TrueType fonts, I certainly was interested in making things as book-like and magazine-like as possible. Like timv I even knew at least one brilliant guy who insisted on calling the magazine "the book," as I am sure was and likely is fashionable among those who know their hard work goes into publications often thought out of date within weeks.

Back in 1984, electronic typesetting was a very texty environment, but we knew it would come out as beautiful curves on the page, at this time, still lovingly (or angrily) pasted up by hand a few cubicles away. The revolution was already underway, as the actual setting of type by hand was long gone, but pasteup and layout systems were not quite ready and affordable.

It's always fun to hear people get upset over these minor matters for most of us. If you can get really cranked up about two spaces or one, Maslow would think you're having a pretty good life, I guess. 

As I understand it from comments elsewhere by email, timv, you've even used two spacers between your skate bearings (custom home-made thin shimmed ones) where most use one, but in order to get a more beneficial spacer-to-bearing connection. But that's not really relevant here but here (http://roadskater.net/do-speed-skate-bearing-spacers-serve-useful-purpos...).

eebee's picture

A leaf out of Noah's book

After quickly double-checking myself to see what I do these days, I actually remembered the moment I made a conscious decision to drop the extra space after a full-stop. It was at my first job stateside (early 90s), where I had to print up cover letters to mail out with company brochures. I still had my old high school typing teacher's voice in my mind, along with the terrible din of a room full of old mechanical typewriters, hammering home that I must leave 2 spaces. However, once printed on the American computers, the double space looked plain ugly. It make the whole document look off, somehow. So I reprinted the rest with single spaces after the period. 

I hadn't realize why it looked different from those old clackety typewriters, until reading that Slate article:

"The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space...Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we've all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it."

Seems like a good explanation to me! Can't say I notice if someone leaves in a double space any more, though!

Might as well take the Noah Webster approach to it, like throwing out redundant letters (spaces) that no longer serve a purpose: travelling/traveling, centre/center, colour/color, etc. 

timv's picture

Typing Class

RIght, I didn't include any excerpts from the Slate piece about the role of typewriters and typing teachers and fixed-spaced typefaces, but that seems to be the source of the righteous two-spacers. Thanks for summarizing that for me.

I never had a day of typing lessons myself so I guess I escaped that influence.

Spelling's a whole 'nother quagmire. For everyone who says to get rid of superfluous letters and make it as phonetic as possible, there's someone else who'll argue that quirky orthography contributes to understanding because it carries with it traces of the etymological history of a word.

I'm tempted to fall back to the Big Theory of Culture view here though, the idea that "what we don't have to do" is the hallmark of human culture. The "gratuitous stylistic extras," as one blogger put it, go beyond the function of conveying bare-bones meaning and have more to say about who we are and where we think we belong. That seems particularly true when the stylistic extras aren't just gratuitous but actually get in the way of first-order functioning. E.g, quirky spelling that actually makes a word harder to understand, shoes that make it harder to walk aorund, driving to work in a car that's cramped and uncomfortable and wastes gas but looks "sporty" (or "rugged," like heavy, space-compromised SUVs displacing more practical station wagons and minivans) etc.

skatey-mark's picture

never gave it much thought

I was taught in school that double-spacing was correct, so that's what I normally do.  Single-spaced sentences "feel" wrong to me, but that's just a case of a strongly-ingrained habit.

A quick Google search turned up a Wikipedia article on sentence spacing, which I found interesting from a historical perspective...


It also mentions proportional fonts as being the reason for double-spacing falling out of favor.  Perhaps I'll try to retrain myself and drop the second space.


- SM -

RSNBiker's picture

AP Style

Good article timv. I was initiated into the one-space club on my first day of Journalism School. Every space counts when you're trying to cram breaking news into a 12-column inch hole. I made an "A" in Mrs. Listre's typing class, but that was the last time I used two spaces between sentences.

roadskater's picture

How About a Space after Last Punctuation of Paragraph?

While writing I noticed something I picked up along the way from writing with computers...an extra space after the last punctuation mark of each paragraph. I do this so I can merge paragraphs or cut and paste sentences a little more quickly later, I guess. Not sure it makes anything easier, but at some point I decided that was what I was going to do.

  • Anyone else do this?
  • Do anything else because or related to using a computer vis-a-vis a typewriter? 

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