• How Many Spaces Between Sentences?

    This is a bit of silliness you won’t see often here. Skip it if you’re in a serious mood. Don’t skip it if what you are serious about is typesetting.

    How many spaces should one put between sentences? My co-bloggers Ian and Steve both use two. See those huge gaps in their posts (Steve’s and Ian’s)? I do! (No I’m not bitter about it.)

    I dropped the double-space habit years ago and am firmly in the one-space camp (no rocket ships). I’m so firmly in that camp that when I co-author papers, grant proposals, and other writing endeavors I frequently edit out all those extra spaces that the two-spacers think are required (global find/replace makes this trivial).

    Maybe you weren’t even aware of this debate. Wikipedia has lengthy entry on the subject.

    The use of a single space after the concluding punctuation of a sentence is the modern convention for professional typesetting, final, and published work (e.g. books, journals, and periodicals).[11][12][13][14] The use of a double space after a sentence has reversed nearly completely, primarily because of the widespread use of proportional fonts.[15][16]

    What’s your opinion? Are you in the we-are-right-dammit-one-space-camp or the if-it-was-good-enough-for-grandpa-two-space-group?

    • LOVE it! I truly didn’t know that anyone else in the world was that anal about sentence spacing. (Later: I just finished re-reading this & must apologize for the length. I do tend to babble on.)

      I’m a corporate & securities paralegal at a small business-law firm in Fort Collins, Colorado. My attorney boss & I have a running, undeclared war re: one v. two spaces between sentences. As you suggest, when one used to typewrite documents using the Courier font that came with every typewriter, you needed the two spaces to visually identify the beginning/end of each sentence. (At least that is what I was taught in typing class, one long-ago, pre-keyboard summer during high school.) That’s what he still does; I think it’s a habit-holdover from the typed Courier days.

      Now, with every document for which I create the draft, or of his that I proof, I use only one space. Unfortunately, I usually have to produce both clean and red-lined copies for his further review. So, when I delete spaces from a doc that he has drafted (or a draft of mine that he later worked on), I then need to go BACK through the red-line& “accept” all those space-changes BEFORE it gets back to him, or all those extra marked changes drive him bonkers.

      ‘Course, I also “replace” & have to “accept” all the apostrophes that somehow lose their Times New Roman font during email transmission & end up looking weird.

      It’s hell being a perfectionist, yes?

      PS: I was taught MS Word by a Word training specialist, and I can’t abide those folks who insist on using Word with the same hard tabs, hard returns, and hard paragraphs that they used to use with WordPerfect, back in the day. And then they complain about how difficult & unreasonable Word is! Bah humbug, I say.

    • This issue is well covered in the excellent Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst.

      The basics is that you should have an EM space after a period or a colon and an EN space after a word. EM spaces are a little wider than, but less than double the width of, an EN space. The practice of using two spaces became popular with type writers that use fixed width fonts. A properly kerned proportional font will use and EM space after a period so you don’t have to do anything special.

    • Re: “A properly kerned proportional font will use and EM space after a period so you don’t have to do anything special.”

      That sentence makes no sense. By “properly kerned proportional font,” I assume you must mean one with an extensive set of kern pairs. A kern pair consists of a left character, a right character, and an amount, normally specified in thousandths of an em, by which the space between the characters should be adjusted when the two characters appear adjacent to one another; this amount may be either positive, which increases the space between the characters, or negative, which reduces it.

      In order to increase the space between sentences with kerning, a font would have to contain kern pairs for every possible sentence-ending character followed by a space, and the kern value would have to be positive. But it is not the case that fonts usually do contain such kern pairs.

      The most common sentence-ending character is a period. Inspection of 2,143 AFM files for fonts from the Adobe OpenType library shows that only 408 (19.04%) contain a period-space kern pair and that in all cases, the kern value is negative.

      Only 27 (1.26%) of the fonts contain a question mark/space kern pair, and in all cases, the kern value is negative. Only 14 (0.65%) contain an exclamation point/space kern pair, and again, the kern values are negative.

    • I learned typing on a typewriter and cannot break myself of the two spaces after a period. It is something I am very aware, but don’t think I can change, it’s part of my muscle memory. I think I am also trained that double spaces just look “right” but I do find it easier to scan text when there is more space in general, including the double spacing after periods.

    • I think the number of spaces should be determined by the highest bidder!

    • I put quite a bit more information in the Wikipedia article. Check it out now for more information.