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All right, all right, keep the extra space

Lordy, you’d think I was trying to take away their guns.

Yesterday, in what I imagined to be an innocuous post, I pointed out that, unless you insist on using a typewriter, it is no longer necessary, or advisable, to type two spaces after a period or colon. In fact, editors have to delete the unnecessary spaces for publication.

Almost immediately a commenter accused me of having a “hissy fit,” and here and on Facebook the responses have come in along the lines of “my grandfather typed two spaces after a period, my father typed two spaces after a period, I’ve typed two spaces after a period since I was a little boy, and, by gosh, by gee, by gum ...”—well, you can see for yourselves.

I used a manual typewriter at The Flemingsburg Gazette forty years ago, and manual and electric typewriters in graduate school, and I always dutifully typed two spaces after a period. Then, in 1980, I went to work at The Cincinnati Enquirer and discovered that one doesn’t do that in a proportional font. So I stopped. Haven’t done it in years. Frankly, don’t see what the big deal is.

But now, I suppose, I should start looking over my shoulder to see whether Sarah Palin is coming after me for abridgin’ our constitutional liberties.

Rather than that, let me urge you to keep putting in those superfluous spaces as long as you like. This is America. I’ll still have to take them out, but, after all, brain-dead mechanical work is what drudges are for.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:11 AM | | Comments (23)


I'm a little surprised that conventional wisdom today seems to hold that you don't need any extra space between sentences in a proportional font. (Note that this is *not* the same thing as saying that you don't need two spaces between sentences. Good typesetting programs--i.e., not MSWord--are capable of fine-grained adjustments to inter-word and inter-sentence space. So, for instance, in its default mode, Knuth's TeX uses an inter-sentence space that is larger than an inter-word space but not twice as large.

One can disable this by selecting the French spacing mode, in which the interword and intersentence spaces are the same size, but I'd always understood that this was a stylistic choice particular to continental typographers.

Has modern usage adopted French spacing wholesale? Or have we simply been conditioned by the proliferation of lousy typesetting programs like MSWord that aren't capable of producing the traditional spacing?

And to be clear: I ask for the purpose of information, not in an attempt to convince people how often they should hit the space bar.

I only recently heard of the one space versus two space debate. I understand the one space arguement completely, and even agree with it. However, my thumbs continue to hit the space bar twice after every sentence. I'll keep working on it.
(And I don't think you threw a hissy fit.)

The double-space issue is a sure way to age a writer. Not that everyone over 40 always puts two spaces, but if someone consistently puts two spaces after every period, you can bet they aren't under 30.

What I guess they failed to teach in typewriting classes is that the double-spacing was a typographical convention, not a grammatical, syntactic, or otherwise linguistic one.

At least the Find and Replace feature gives us editors an easy way to fix it.

Mr. McIntyre,

Use the search and replace feature to find all the double spaces and replace them with single spaces. Do this several so as to catch the triple spaces and quadruple spaces as well. Need multiple spaces, that is what the tab key is for.

Weren't "typewriter rules" made for typewriters that didn't have the conventional capabilities of professional typesetting? My personal skills go back to handset type, although I managed to skip the stage of actually using a Linotype machine, but even with handset type, the en-quad before a sentence was the only "stable" spacing on a line; we adjusted the rest of the line length by putting somewhat random spacing between words.

Typewriters also gave us those lovely underlines or all caps to use because they didn't have the capability to format boldface or italics. Would the insistent double-spacers want to go back there, too?

Is my verification phrase "good antics" just too cool for this blog, or what?

@4ndyman - I'm 27 and I've been using two spaces since I first put fingertips to keyboard. That's the way my father taught me, and I continue to set Word to check for that in its grammar check. The arguments against it are perfectly reasonable, but I don't know that I'll ever be able to break myself of the habit (and since I don't work in publishing it doesn't really cause any trouble). I'll try to remember not to pass it on to my theoretical children, though.

I'm with Rusty. My typing is atrocious and I often put who-knows-how-many extra spaces here and there. Thus I select and replace doubles multiple times … if I wanted to have a double space, I suppose I could select '. ' and replace with '. ' but why bother when all it does is make me look out of date.

I am part of that indeterminate generation who started in print, and then (as a junior editor) was volunteered to publish our magazine online.

Funny thing about HTML: It ignores the second space, the third space, and so on. No matter how many you leave in there, it only displays one. Since I was writing for the web as often as I was writing for print, that made it easy to break the double-space habit.

Yeah I've seen this before -- for some reason, the must-double-space crowd views it as a personal attack when you tell them that it's not necessary. It's not as if it's a reflection on their worth as a writer or a person... but they act like you shot their dog. Very strange.

And to MarkT -- how can you say both "I don't know that I'll ever be able to break myself of the habit" and "I continue to set Word to check for [two spaces] in its grammar check?" Change your settings and you're done with it!

Double spaces are for big dumb poopy-heads. Na-na-na-na-nah!

I learned to type over forty years ago, on an IBM Selectric. Throughout college and graduate school, I used electric typewriters, and dutifully typed two spaces after each full stop and colon.

However, I adapted to the computer in 1981, began using rudimentary word processors (WordStar, Ami Pro) which would allow for proportional fonts even with dot matrix printers, and have been typing one space after periods and colons ever since.

It's not that difficult to train yourselves to change.

Now, if you simply don't want to change, that is all well and good. However, if you think one space after a period or colon is wrong then I am forced to put you in that category of people we call Luddites. Or worse, you may believe the world is only 4,000 years old.

And then there are those who use proportional fonts. Even on their computers. Monaco and Courier being the two best known of these and still appropriate for some web purposes. It isn't such a big deal. Is it?

Because I started in newspapers with manual typewriters and moved to computer keyboards much later, I understand the space conventions for typewriters and computers.

Two spaces after a period separates sentences better for the eye, but we edit with the paragraph symbol and spaces showing and we can see extra spaces.

The one-space convention saved space in hot lead type and in cold type.

I don't have a problem with two spaces, but our publications have adopted the one-space convention.

I still don't think I've seen what I would call a rational argument against double spaces between sentences. The three arguments I've seen are:

1) It's unnecessary.

This is countered by numerous people who have said that it helps to see the break between sentences.

2) It takes us on the slippery slope of three, four, or more spaces.

Fine. Ban the use of more than two spaces between sentences.

3) It's a hold over from fixed font typewriters when it was necessary to have the extra space.

Not really. Double spacing in a fixed font leaves more space than double spacing in a proportional font.

@ Dave McLane:

Replacing double spaces with single spaces is trivial with Replace All. Replacing single spaces with double is not. Think of all the times you have an abbreviation ending in a period in the middle of a sentence. You don't want to change those single spaces to double spaces.

I have also seen it claimed that the proponents of double spacing are especially vehement in their arguments. What I've seen so far in the many incarnations of this issue here and on Facebook suggests that it's the proponents of single spacing that are the more vehement.

Let me try a rational argument. Allowing two spaces after a period was an arbitrary convention with manuscripts on typewriters. Allowing one space after a period is a convention of contemporary publishing. The new edition of The Chicago Manual of Style says, "Like most publishers [emphasis added], Chicago advises leaving a single character space, not two spaces, between sentences and after colons used within a sentence. ..."

You're certainly free to dislike this convention and flout it in your own work, but if your work is accepted for publication, someone else will enforce it.

MS Word has styles. You can use styles (either the built-in ones or create your own) that give you the spacing you want, without extra spacing and tabbing.

Might be a pain to set up, but once you have your styles set, formatting stuff is a breeze.

While we are talking about fonts, may I register my displeasure with serif fonts? I do not like Times New Roman or Courier, but rather use the san-serif fonts like Verdana and Calibri. Arial, not so much.

What the heck does Sarah Palin or guns have to do with punctuation?

Perhaps you should be more concerned about superfluous attempts at political humor than typography.

August, right? The next thing we argue is Jersey Devil sightings.

Look: I’m 57 years old. I learned to touch-type in high school. I took a lot of dictation and rewrite as a reporter once I was identified as a pigeon who could type fast and fairly cleanly on a typewriter. I don’t remember editors complaining on deadline about single spaces or double spaces for sentences on a typewriter as long as the sentences were in a language approximating American English.

My newspaper in 1984 or so switched to computers. The spacing was not an issue. If I goofed, and I suppose I did, somebody fixed it.

As a copy editor today, sentence spacing is not an issue with young people. Some of them think the story form of communication is going the way of blind guys reciting war poems.

They think they invented a new form of communication by twitting, I mean tweeting (OK, no I didn’t).

My response to them: “Ever hear of a telegraph?”

Mr rusty:
MS Word can easily replace multiple spaces with minimum strokes; no need for doing Find&Replace so many times. That's what wild cards are meant for.
(Mr McIntyre: I can help you with wild cards if you want. Just let me know. I, too, am a drudge who is used to do such tasks very often. Sigh.)

I use Framemaker, a very powerful desktop publishing system for extremely long technical documents. There is a feature that ignores multiple presses of the space bar. One or a thousand, it comes out one.

Imagine my horror in entering my previous job to find that they willfully turned that feature off an enforced two spaces after a period. To this day, I can remember editing and marking one space or three as requiring a fix.

First thing I did at this new job was redesign the layout and turn off that silly convention. The software ought to know where the periods are and do the right thing. If it doesn't, a person needs newer/better software.

To all those who posted the Word and other IT quick fixes: thank you.

If a writing habit repeatedly causes unnecessary editing and the editor brings said problem to writer's attention, it is at the very least professionally courteous to stop the offending habit. It doesn't matter whether or not the editor's fix for said bad habit is fast or slow. It's the simple fact that said editor has to do it at all.

Two spaces will not cause the end of the world, and McIntyre was venting and informing. Sorry to see there are so many thin skins out there. Space use is just a habit.

Whenever I teach Public Relations Writing (which I teach as a newswriting course, in essence), on the first day of classes I ask my students (most about 20 years old) who has been taught to use one space after the period at the end of a sentence, and who has been taught to use two spaces. (Sorry, @4ndyman, but you’re wrong about the demographic breakdown.)

Each time, the class has been about evenly divided. The sad reality: High-school “keyboarding” (it’s no longer called “typing”) instructors, who don’t know any better themselves, are in 2010 still wrongly teaching students to use two spaces.

Recommended reading: The Mac Is Not a Typewriter (or The PC Is Not a Typewriter—depending upon your persuasion).

Single spaces after sentences severely limits my ability to stay interested in what the person is saying. Why? Because every sentence bleeds together.

You may not think the extra little space will make a difference, but it does. I've noticed that I'm far less likely to stay interested in a blog if the author uses the single-space.

I wouldn't be surprised if reading comprehension across the board diminishes. But, really, who cares? It's not like most people have any respect for grammar anymore, anyway.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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