Controversial Topics, Education, Metrics and Analytics, Reading

How Many Spaces After a Period?

Farhad Manjoo at Slate recently created a bit of a sensation with an article about the simmering controversy over whether you put one space or two spaces after a period.

What do you do?

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About Kent Anderson

I am the CEO/Publisher of the STRIATUS/JBJS, Inc., the home of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, JBJS Case Connector, JBJS Reviews, JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques, the JBJS Recertification Course, PRE-val, and SocialCite. Prior to this, I was an executive at the New England Journal of Medicine. I also was Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Discussion

21 thoughts on “How Many Spaces After a Period?

  1. Two might have made sense in the old type-writer days, but doesn’t in a world of word processors.

    Posted by Peter M B English | Jan 22, 2011, 8:55 am
    • I’m curious as to what difference it makes whether you’re using a typewriter or a computer. Isn’t it easier to read a paragraph with two spaces after periods regardless of what tool was used to type it?

      Posted by Jay Fitzsimmons | Jan 22, 2011, 1:51 pm
      • I think it comes down to proportional fonts, which computers carry off without a hitch. Typewriters use monospaced type, so the double space was an accommodation.

        Posted by Kent Anderson | Jan 22, 2011, 3:25 pm
  2. Two on a typewriter. One on a computer.

    Posted by Doug Brown | Jan 22, 2011, 9:14 am
  3. I would bet it may depend in part on when and how you learned to type. While I know that it makes little sense (and is apparently wrong) to use two spaces today, my fingers do it anyway. Given that most manuscripts I see are inconsistent (and will often have two spaces between words on occasion), I say all hail search and replace, or request that MS Word casts the one space rule as default in its grammar checker.

    One other thought: does having two spaces between sentences make a paragraph more visually readable?

    Posted by GailK | Jan 22, 2011, 10:02 am
  4. Two. Because that is what it takes for the iphone/ipad to automatically insert a period.

    Posted by John Sack | Jan 22, 2011, 10:11 am
  5. A friend of mine brought up a great point: what if you have an abbreviation in the middle of a sentence? Wouldn’t you want to distinguish the use of a single space there from that at the end of a sentence for readability?

    Posted by GailK | Jan 22, 2011, 3:52 pm
    • Reading’s more immersive than that acknowledges. Context typically tells the reader whether it’s a period abbreviating a word or a terminal period.

      Posted by Kent Anderson | Jan 22, 2011, 3:55 pm
      • Would still like to see some real science other than aesthetics come into play here. While I realize there were less than scientific reasons that put the practice into place, there are so many assumptions made in the brain when you look at positioning of items.

        Take for example having the thumbs up directly above the Reply text on the comments here. User error X2 :-/

        Posted by GailK | Jan 22, 2011, 4:13 pm
        • Check out the Chicago Manual of Style. I believe it calls for one.

          Posted by David Sanders | Jan 22, 2011, 6:23 pm
          • The Chicago Manual of Style is not based on scientifically testing readability, but provides a well-respected guideline of what is considered best practices (a moving target throughout its many editions) for creating and publishing something to be typeset. It provides examples but not reasons aside from pointing out where readers might become confused as to the meaning. I have the 14th edition (1993) in book form and cannot find a ruling on spacing after punctuation, but do see it in the online versions of the 15th (6.11) and 16th (6.7) editions.

            Posted by GailK | Jan 22, 2011, 10:46 pm
            • Readability isn’t really different between the two approaches because the differences come from two things that work together to build-in readability and legibility — namely, proportional fonts and acculturation. The two-space conceit emerged in order to provide an imitation of proportionality when typists were using mainly monospaced fonts (i.e., the “i” and “w” occupied equivalent space in a line). People got used to this (acculturation), so it became linked to legibility, since legibility/readability is partly learned, not entirely physiological. With the emergence of proportional fonts, the spacing between sentences became legible with one space, and two spaces started to look like an unnatural gap. So people started to see the proportional font solution with one space as legible/readable, which it is, and one space between sentences started to become the norm. So essentially the same thing is accomplished now with one space that took two before. With proportional fonts, readability (and much of the history of type) is built in.

              Posted by Kent Anderson | Jan 23, 2011, 12:03 am
  6. Re John Sack’s comment about the iPhone and iPad, the same is true of a Blackberry. But that is just a UI feature to help make it easier to type on a device that is not designed for real typing.

    Any content that is intended for reuse and reformatting should have one space after periods, not two. Typesetting systems generally fix this automatically, because they’re designed to reflow content in a sophisticated way (including managing line breaks and line spacing–those normal “word spaces” are very elastic). But even at the other end of the current evolutionary spectrum, XML, you don’t want extra meaningless spaces lurking in your content. There are ways (in both typesetting and XML) to put in “fixed” spaces of various sizes when you really mean them, and also “non-breaking spaces,” used where you wouldn’t want a line to break at a space (the latter is usually the case — and at that break, a normal wordspace doesn’t appear).

    We need to break people of that double-space habit! (Can you tell I’ve been a typographer in past lives?) And don’t even get me going on “French” spacing, the differences between US and UK punctuation/spacing practices, etc. etc. . . . .

    Posted by Bill Kasdorf | Jan 22, 2011, 6:04 pm
  7. All I got from this Slate article was that you should never invite Farhad Manjoo to Thanksgiving dinner.

    Posted by Toby P | Jan 23, 2011, 2:42 pm
  8. It’s one. It has always been one. No style guide has ever called for two. The whole idea that it’s two is an urban myth.

    Posted by Stephen Downes | Jan 23, 2011, 10:06 pm
  9. One period after an abbreviation. Two periods at the end of a sentance. Makes it easier to read typed or electronic.

    Posted by Diane Hoffman | Jan 24, 2011, 5:38 pm
  10. Again, I say: the space after a period or other such punctuation should be a quad space: a space that has the same width as the height of the type. This is Divine Law.

    Posted by John S. Wilkins | Jan 24, 2011, 8:03 pm
  11. One. Always one. Because two is just old fashioned… ok, it may help some people to breath at the end of a Proust’s sentence :) but that would be the only exception!

    Posted by Celine GP | Jan 25, 2011, 5:09 pm
  12. GailK is quite right. First, we’re used to typing with two spaces. (Most of us) Second, two spaces helps in those rare cases where periods in the middle of sentences, followed by an uppercase letter (say, for a proper noun) may be misleading. To refute the second point by claiming that ‘context’ can avoid misreading undermines the basis for most punctuation rules: a reader can almost always figure out the message without punctuation. The goal of punctuation is that the reader not have to figure it out.

    Posted by zev shanken | Jan 28, 2011, 1:02 pm
  13. Two. Makes it easier to read. Common Sense.

    Posted by Fing | Feb 10, 2012, 8:22 pm

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