Two Spaces After a Period

It is acceptable to use two spaces after a period.

Why am I moved to make this declaration? Because every so often a typographic tyrant goes off their OCD medication and launches a caustic diatribe at anyone who prefers to use two spaces between adjoining sentences. These deranged attacks, absurd as they are, can do real damage to writers. Ditchwalk will not tolerate anyone who uses authority or prominence to ridicule or intimidate writers, or in any way make writing more difficult than it already is.

The Question in Context
As a writer of any kind — private, professional, traditional, experimental — you have two obligations. The first is to be honest to your own intentions. The second is to communicate your intentions to the intended reader as effectively as possible.

These obligations hold whether you are writing an email to a single person or publishing a work for the masses. They remain your responsibility even if you choose to involve others in the process. Agents, editors, publishers, typographers and others who make a living off authorship are peripheral to your work as a writer. They may be central to your goals as a business person, they may be central to your ability to produce a physical book or e-book file, but they are not writers.

You are a writer. Your job is to write for your readers. That’s true whether you’re an established author or just starting out. The problem, of course, is that when you’re just starting out you’re not sure what you’re doing. Complicating matters is the fact that some of the agents, editors, publishers, typographers and others who make a living off authorship will gladly claim expertise and authority even in matters they know nothing about. This includes everything from telling you what your obligations are as a writer to how many blank spaces should follow a period.

Why would someone do this? Because it makes money. Because they are control freaks. Because they genuinely believe their little corner of the universe is the only thing that matters. Because they have confused the needs of the reader with the demands of the market. Because they hate the fact that you can write and they can’t. Take your pick.

Whether you choose to defer to peripheral voices or ignore them, no choice voids your basic obligations as a writer. There are no shortcuts. You must ask and answer a million questions in order to write well. At times you may find there is no agreement about an issue. In those instances you will have to choose what you prefer or think best, not what’s right or true.

The most important thing I can tell you about navigating any writing issue is this. The second most important thing I can tell you is to always keep perspective. Relative to the eternal obligations of every author, the question of how many spaces should follow a period is a flea on the great stellar flank of our galaxy.

You should also be particularly wary of any agent, editor, publisher, typographer or other person peripheral to the writer-reader relationship who uses a claim of expertise to cow you into conformity. Authorship is about making conscious, informed choices, not about blindly accepting the opinions of others.

How many writers have ever said that two spaces after a period is a sign of amateurism? How many writers would dismiss your content outright if you used two spaces instead of one? Is this a common source of discussion at writing workshops and retreats? Have you ever seen a breakout session at a convention titled The Two-Space Debate? Has anyone ever said, in the entire history of the world, “This would have been a great book, but because the author used two spaces after a period it is an unmitigated disaster.”

If you are writing a book narrowly targeted at people who believe two spaces after a period is a portent of the End Times, then yes, you should probably use a single space after a period. Other than that, you should learn as much about this and every other issue as you can, then make your own case-by-case decisions.

For myself, I have generally used two spaces after a period to no ill effect. No one who has ever paid me money to write, or ever received a document written by me, has ever asked me to use a single space after a period, or even commented about my practice. Recently, however, after twenty-five years of writing, I did come across an instance in which I found two spaces to be distracting, and I will expand on that experience below.

In the remainder of this post I intend to: dismantle a recent diatribe against the use of two spaces after a period; explain when and why I use one space or two spaces after a period; make the case that excessive interest in this issue should be included as classification criteria in DSM-5.  

Questioning the Question
When confronting any argument the first thing to take note of is the premise. Like statistics, arguments can be structured to prove anything, meaning the specifics of an argument are only valid if the premise is valid. The premise in this case is that adding two spaces after a period damages the reading experience for the average reader.

It doesn’t.

There is no evidence in the entire history of the universe that using two spaces after a period has caused irreparable harm, gross insult, lasting disease, mass hysteria, or any negative effect on the human species whatsoever. Why would anyone care so deeply about something so meaningless? The first concern would obviously be an undiagnosed disease process of some kind, but I’m not a doctor so I don’t want to speculate about the mental effects of things like, say, syphilis. I do believe I am qualified, however, by virtue of age and experience, to suggest two motivations that might be fueling such rants, neither of which has anything to do with typography or the needs of the vast majority of people who write or read.

First, I am convinced that people who obsess about this issue genuinely feel they are being assaulted when they come across two spaces after a period. Nobody who did not experience a psychic blow when confronted by two spaces would ever make something like that up, for the simple reason that doing so would define them as loony. Assuming that some people do have a violent reaction, then — in the same way a person might recoil at a photograph of a small, harmless, good-for-your-garden spider, let alone the real thing — I think it’s understandable that they might want to prevent such trauma in the future.

Second, anyone who believes that their own irrational beliefs should be universally adopted by others clearly shows a tendency toward orthodoxy. Practitioners of orthodoxy around the world see no problem with bludgeoning others into submission, even as they remain blind to the extremity of their own views. Typographic fundamentalists are no different.

Respecting Authority
The latest inadvertent psychiatric revelation triggered by the two-space debate comes from one Farhad Manjoo, who writes for a website called Slate. See if you can recognize the signs:

[Julian Assange is] a fellow who’s been using computers since at least the mid-1980s, a guy whose globetrotting tech-wizardry has come to symbolize all that’s revolutionary about the digital age. Yet when he sits down to type, Julian Assange reverts to an antiquated habit that would not have been out of place in the secretarial pools of the 1950s: He uses two spaces after every period. Which—for the record—is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

Given everything you yourself do or do not know about Wikileaks and Julian Assange, what mental state would you have to be in to ignore all of that and fixate on the number of spaces that Assange was using after a period? Better yet, what sort of obsessive, conformist mind would you have to have to notice whether anyone was using one space or two. Have you ever noticed this in any piece of text? Do you know anyone who has ever noticed this? Has anyone ever commented on your own practice in this regard?

My guess is that your answers to the above questions are no, no and no. Unless, of course you found yourself the manic focus of a typographic fundamentalist bent on converting you to the one true, right and good way to segregate sentences from each other.

If you have had that kind of ferocious condescension aimed at you, you may have ended up feeling bad or inadequate about your punctuation. If so, I hope it brings some relief to learn that this power dynamic was probably the real objective of the person who berated you. Not only wouldn’t a kind or caring person try to humiliate you about something so petty and meaningless, a normal, healthy mind would recognize that in the scheme of things it doesn’t matter whether a person uses one space or two after a period Because in the whole history of the universe using two spaces has not caused irreparable harm, gross insult, lasting disease, mass hysteria, or, in fact, any negative effect on the human species whatsoever.

(The ability to notice odd or stray details can, in some instances, be critical. When a detective notices something that solves a murder, that’s a good thing. When your mechanic points to a belt or tire that is about to split, that’s a good thing. But when someone points out a bit of black lint on your black sweater, or that you’re holding your coffee cup at a less-than-optimal ergonomic elbow angle, or that you’re using two spaces after a period, nobody is being saved, no crime is being solved and no tragedy is being averted. The only thing happening is that authority is being asserted over you, often under the pretense of saving you from embarrassing yourself.)

The means by which typographic fundamentalists advance their orthodox views is the same in writing as it is in religion. “Will I get to heaven?” is replaced by “Will I get published?”, but in each case fear and uncertainty leaves the door open for exploitation and abuse by people of nefarious intent. Like the religious leader who claims to speak for a god, or who claims to be the sole reliable interpreter of a religious text, typographic fundamentalists exploit fear and uncertainty by holding themselves out as authorities.

In a way it makes sense: if you want to know about a god, who knows more than a religious leader? If you want to know how to fix your balky web site, who knows more than your hosting provider? If you want to know about spacing between sentences, who knows more than a typographer?

We are, rightly, taught to appeal to authority and expertise when seeking answers to questions. That’s not the problem. The problem is that such appeals invariably involve other human beings who may be missing a few marbles. In my own experience some of the people I have sought answers from have been loving, supportive and giving, while some have been users, bullies and frauds. Such is life.

A Case Study
So who should you listen to? How can you sort out mean-spirited orthodox nuts from the great, open, loving and supportive community of writers to which I belong? Pay attention to language. If someone is speaking in absolutes, that’s a good sign that they are an extremist. Here’s Manjoo, making his case:

Two-spacers are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste. You’d expect, for instance, that anyone savvy enough to read Slate would know the proper rules of typing, but you’d be wrong; every third e-mail I get from readers includes the two-space error.

While perhaps intended as an homage to Joe McCarthy, this kind of paranoid, absolutist demagoguery has no place in a free and open society. There is no subversive assault being launched. There is no organized two-space conspiracy poised to topple our democracy. There is, simply, preference.

And that’s the difference between the typographic fundamentalists and me. I’m open to diversity, they’re not. I’m supportive of creative expression, they believe you should stay inside the barbed-wire perimeter. I’m for getting along, they’re for clubbing you senseless. I’m for letting the small stuff go, they’re convinced that the small stuff will do damage to their brains unless they wear tin foil hats. I am willing to acknowledge that the question of how many spaces should be used after a period may involve some measure of personal choice; they are convinced beyond any doubt that using two spaces after a period is a crime against nature, humanity, all gods, and — most importantly — their own asserted authority and expertise.

Traditionally, one of the main tools of the fundamentalist trade is projection, which is “the tendency to ascribe to another person feelings, thoughts, or attitudes present in oneself…” Here’s Manjoo:

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

When you’re determined to control the behavior of human beings, it always helps to preposition yourself as a victim. That way, at least in your own mind, your intended abuses can be seen as righteous. As already quoted, here’s how Manjoo prepositioned himself:

[Assange] uses two spaces after every period. Which—for the record—is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.

Now I ask you: who’s asserting certainty here? Where I allow for a difference of opinion on the subject, Manjoo and others like him demand strict obedience and conformity (hence the projection). Thankfully, most people have no experience confronting this sort of wild-eyed fanaticism in the wild. Unfortunately, in seeking to prove that a two-space conspiracy was threatening his precious bodily fluids, Manjoo himself felt compelled to traumatize a group of gentle, unsuspecting souls:

Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces.

Two things here. First, Manjoo prejudges the question by asking for the ‘correct’ answer. He doesn’t ask if people have a preference, but confronts them with the threat of embarrassment if they give a wrong answer in public. Second, even though everyone said that two spaces was correct, there was never a single moment — not an instant — where Manjoo himself was moved to doubt the truth of his own opposing view. Or even to allow for the possibility that there might be some aspect of preference inherent in the question.

If the unanimity of the respondents wasn’t enough, it further transpired that in practice most of those gathered used one space or two spaces at different times — apparently out of some delusional belief that they should trust their own judgment in each instance, rather than slave themselves to an absolute rule. Ignoring the glaring implication that preference and instance might indeed be the proper basis for determining how many spaces to use after a period, Manjoo instead took righteous glee in springing his trap:

“Who says two spaces is wrong?” they wanted to know.

Typographers, that’s who.

Over the years I have read countless arguments put forward by single-space fanatics, and this is where they all end up. Single-spacers believe that at some point all typographers around the world got together at Area 51 and decided that two spaces after a period is the equivalent of typographical treason. Manjoo is no exception:

The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences. That convention was not arrived at casually.

This didn’t happen. Not only was the modern bias against two spaces not adopted after rigorous debate and consideration of all the facts, it wasn’t even adopted as a result of the opinions of typographers. Rather, as Manjoo’s own witness will testify, it was determined by the functionality of machinery designed at the time — much as two spaces after a period was in large part perpetuated by the technological limitations of the typewriter.

We’re all familiar with experts and their advice. We’re also familiar with expert advice that fluctuates wildly over time. In my lifetime mothers have been advised to nurse their babies, to use formula, to nurse their babies again, and now, most recently, to combine nursing with formula at a specific developmental milestone. In my lifetime women have also been advised to get mammograms, not to get mammograms, and to get mammograms only if they have specific risk factors, to the point that even the experts charged with issuing these recommendations are having a blood feud about what to say to all of the women who have been completely terrorized by this research.

Despite these obvious examples, and many more I might cite, writers are asked to believe that not only is there unanimity about whether one space or two spaces is correct, but that the issue rises to a level of importance beyond other typographic issues that are demonstrably more distracting to readers.

I have personally refused to read or purchase professionally designed and printed books that employed stylistic or otherwise difficult-to-read fonts. I’ve avoided books that used light-colored ink on off-white paper, rendering the page a bland celebration of cost-cutting grays in preference of readable contrast. But of all the typographical reasons why I’ve rejected a book, across the great breadth of my life, I have never — and you have never, and nobody you know has ever, ever — rejected a book because it used two spaces after a period. Until all other abuses are resolved, and typographers agree to stop using wacky, trendy or exotic new fonts over old, trusted, reliable, proven, effective, transparent fonts simply because they’re bored out of their freaking minds, I don’t want to hear another typographer talk about how important it is to wipe out the preferential practice of using two spaces after a period.

A Personal Aside
I recognize that I’m allowing a bit of passion to show here myself, and I apologize for that. Most typographers are good, honest, hardworking citizens who toil anonymously in support of the writer-reader relationship. They are to be thanked. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve been accosted by acolytes of an obscure discipline, and I’m afraid my normal reserve and decorum may have been worn down by previous battles.

It’s still hard to talk about this, but when I was growing up I was serially abused by fundamentalist audiophiles. Like typographers standing guard over type, the audiophiles insisted they were the sole authority over sounds. It didn’t matter who made the sounds, or what the sounds said, or if the sounds were poetic or insipid: all that mattered was fidelity. Like typographers, audiophiles believed their metrics and standards were the truth, rather than merely the obsessive preference of a small group of self-selecting devotees.

I have good hearing, even now. When I was younger my hearing was great. In my professional life I’ve worked with recording engineers, and have been complimented on my ability to pick out the faintest hiss or pop. Despite this capacity, during the Age of the Audiophile I was never able to hear the difference between 0.001 ohms of impedance and 0.002 ohms of impedance. This despite many condescending and belittling assurances from audiophiles that they themselves could easily do so.

Assuming for the sake of argument that I was wrong and the audiophiles were right, consider the effect of the audiophile movement on the market and the world. Forty years later the dominant music format is the MP3. The fidelity of an MP3 is, to an audiophile, what a train wreck is to a locomotive engineer. Despite this fact the average person — by which I mean 99.99% of the world’s population — is perfectly happy with the MP3.

Back on the Case
If we allow for the sake of argument that typography as a profession has favored even a general guideline about the number of spaces that should follow a period, it’s important to note that doing so seems to have had produced no change in reading habits or market dynamics. The transition from two spaces as vague standard to one space as vague standard evoked little or no actual notice, despite the fact that typographers believe the difference is critical to the reading experience.

Could it be that typography is actually irrelevant to the needs of most readers and writers? As a typographic fundamentalist, Manjoo avoids the question by granting typography unquestioned authority:

Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule.

If you are new to writing you may be tempted to believe such a bold statement. Who would state something so categorically if it wasn’t true? Well, a fanatic, for one.

The implication of any typographical rule is that it serves the writer-reader relationship. But as my own life experience, and yours, and that of virtually every human being you have ever known attests, this is not true in this case. There is no relationship between using a single space or a double space after a period and any of the following: commercial success, authorial power, reader comprehension or reader interest.

Authority Unmasked
How can this be? How can typographers care so passionately about something that has no demonstrable impact on the real world? Because what typographers mean when they say they prefer a single space to two spaces — if indeed they voice a preference at all — is that it’s preferable to them. They’re not claiming they have data or polling from readers that indicates a strong preference for a single space after a period, although they don’t mind if you jump to that conclusion. Rather, they are saying that they themselves prefer a single space.

What could possibly account for this preference? What is it about typography that would lead typographers to even have a preference, where most readers have no preference and most writers have varying preferences? I think there are several reasons, all of them valid from the typographers point of view of, and all of them meaningless from the point of view of everybody else.

I’ll explore these reasons momentarily, but for now I want to stay with Manjoo’s invective, in the fervent hope that this post may prevent unsuspecting writers from falling into his intellectual abyss. The first authority Manjoo references in support of his claim that typographers “decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences” is James Felici. True enough, the post that Manjoo links to begins as follows:

To Double-Space or Not to Double-Space…
A thought-provoking disquisition on the thorny issue of how much space should follow a sentence-ending period.
Written by James Felici on August 24, 2009

It’s the debate that refuses to die: Do you set one word space or two after a period? In all my years of writing about type, it’s still the question I hear most often, and a search of the web will find threads galore on the subject. I’m going to try to put an end to the argument here.

In support of his wild claim that “every” typographer agrees with the one-space rule, Manjoo also links to several organizations that maintain usage standards, including the MLA. (Helpfully, a number of Majoo’s own readers have pointed out that “as a practical matter” MLA sees “nothing wrong” with using two spaces after a period.) Of the links Manjoo provides in support of his argument, however, the link to Felici’s post most directly addresses the foundations of the two-space debate. Which makes it all the more damning that Felici himself single-handedly demolishes the first historical claim Manjoo makes.

Here’s Manjoo on the origin of the use of two spaces after a period:

Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren’t for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong.

Here’s Felici on the same point:

But the use of double spaces (or other exaggerated spacing) after a period is a typographic convention with roots that far predate the typewriter.


Manjoo does provide a reasonable explanation of the differences between monospaced fonts and proportional fonts:

The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type—that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read.

Felici agrees, and includes a helpful graphic to demonstrate monospacing:

Characters in monospaced typefaces look weird, forced by mechanical necessity onto a Procrustean bed. Some — like the M — look pinched, while some are grossly expanded — such as the i or l. Side bearings for narrow characters such as punctuation marks have to be puffed up. The overall effect of such type is very airy and open and its spacing is poorly modulated.

The mechanism for moving the carriage of a typewriter obliged every character to take up the same amount of space on the line, as shown in these monospaced faces. Punctuation — whose shapes can’t be adapted — fares particularly badly. From top to bottom are Courier, Letter Gothic, and Prestige.

Proportional fonts acknowledge that an ‘l’ is not as wide as a ‘w’. In a proportional font the total width of a character — meaning the character itself and the white space to either side — is dependent on the character’s width. You can see this clearly in this post, in the word ‘width’ for example, where the ‘i’ is narrower than the ‘w’ or ‘d’ to either side.

Typographers fret about the width of character — including any bounding white space — endlessly and with justification (later pun not intended here). Character width is a big part of the typographical profession, and alone differentiates the entire class of monospaced fonts from proportional fonts. For blank spaces width is literally the only defining aspect, because a blank space by definition has no other characteristic.

Manjoo acknowledges causal claims by typographers that a single space after a period improves the reader’s experience:

Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.

Manjoo supports the point with two hard-line quotes from typographic fundamentalists, the second of which I will come back to and obliterate shortly. Then, after arguing that there is no debate about whether one space or two spaces should be used, and after claiming that all typographers agree that one space should be used, Manjoo makes an utterly jaw-dropping statement:

This readability argument is debatable. Typographers can point to no studies or any other evidence proving that single spaces improve readability.


Every typographer on the face of the earth has sworn a blood oath in support of a single space after a period, yet there is no actual evidence that using two spaces makes life harder for the reader? What else could possibly convince every living typographer that a single space is preferable to two?

Manjoo drops a bomb:

When you press them on it, they tend to cite their aesthetic sensibilities. As Jury says, “It’s so bloody ugly.”

But I actually think aesthetics are the best argument in favor of one space over two. One space is simpler, cleaner, and more visually pleasing (it also requires less work, which isn’t nothing). A page of text with two spaces between every sentence looks riddled with holes; a page of text with an ordinary space looks just as it should.

If you’re not familiar with ‘aesthetics’ as an internationally-approved standard of scientific measurement, allow me to explain. Saying that aesthetics is the best argument in favor of one space over two is like saying the tongue is the best argument in favor of chocolate over vanilla. Or that eyesight is the best argument in favor of redheads over brunettes. Or that what you like is the best argument in favor of what you like. Meaning it’s a matter of personal preference.

Unbelievably, after making claims to authority and claims to standards and claims to empirical evidence and claims to utility, Manjoo settles on a subjective standard as the basis for forcing the rest of the world to embrace his own typographical kinks. And in this we come full circle, not to a proof about the superiority of one space over two, but rather to a proof of Manjoo’s interest in allying himself with typographers and their aesthetic preferences. When Manjoo says, “Typographers, that’s who,” what he really means is, “Typographers who agree with me, that’s who.”

Closing the Case
I do believe that some people feel pain or discomfort when they see two spaces after a period, and I think Manjoo is one of those unlucky people. But that is not the same thing as being an epileptic and having a seizure while playing a video game. We are not talking about a neurological problem, but hyperactive preference. If typographers did not agree with Manjoo’s own aesthetic, I firmly believe he would throw the lot overboard and remain unbowed in his belief that two spaces after a period is an abomination.

In fact, Manjoo’s defense of his own aesthetic is so tautological as to be absurd:

A page of text with two spaces between every sentence looks riddled with holes; a page of text with an ordinary space looks just as it should.

Predictably, part of his absurd justification mirrors the second of the two hard-line quotes mentioned above:

“If you get a really big pause—a big hole—in the middle of a line, the reader pauses. And you don’t want people to pause all the time. You want the text to flow.”

This obsession with holes is, in effect, a negative-space argument against using two spaces after a period. The positive-space argument is the one that Manjoo and Filici agree on, which concerns the width of letters in monospaced and proportional fonts. These two arguments are used again and again in support of a single-space after a period, yet as I’ll soon show neither of these rationales makes any sense.

In the end, even Manjoo cannot help but admit the truth:

Is this arbitrary? Sure it is.

He follows this admission with a feeble raspberry from the balcony:

Besides, the argument in favor of two spaces isn’t any less arbitrary.

Well, no, it isn’t. But it isn’t any more arbitrary, either.

Manjoo closes by reiterating the myth that using two spaces after a period is an artifact of outdated technology:

The only reason today’s teachers learned to use two spaces is because their teachers were in the grip of old-school technology. We would never accept teachers pushing other outmoded ideas on kids because that’s what was popular back when they were in school. The same should go for typing.

Whereupon Felici steps back in and utterly demolishes Manjoo:

Interestingly, by the 1960s, electronic phototypesetting systems went as far as ignoring consecutive word spaces altogether when they appeared in text. If the system found consecutive word spaces, it regarded that as a mistake and collapsed them into a single space. For the generation of typesetters who grew up during this regime, this no-nonsense interdiction may be part of the source of the notion that double spaces are not just a bad idea but are in fact verboten.

There you have it. During the age of the typewriter two spaces after a period had some actual utility in terms of readability, because most typewriters used monospaced fonts. During the age of the computer, however, a few geeks decided that multiple spaces would be ignored, perpetuating yet another technology-driven standard that had nothing to do with improving readability, nothing to do with listening to typographers, and nothing to do with what readers and writers wanted.

That typographers may now prefer this historical accident is notable, but does nothing to prove the validity or utility of the practice.

Typography and the Single-Space Aesthetic
Is the persistent bias against two spaces in modern typography merely a function of technology? I don’t think so. I think there are reasons why typographers prefer a single space to two spaces, even if those reasons have nothing to do with readability or anything to do with advancing the writer-reader relationship.

Were I a typographer I would lean toward the single-space standard for the following reasons:

  • Establishing Expertise
    It’s hard to be an authority if what you think is merely a subjective preference. Interior decorators work like dogs to demonstrate expertise, because when they say your corner table absolutely demands a $600 vase — the price of which will increase their own take home pay — they need you to believe them. This kind of expertise is different from, say, a brain surgeon’s expertise, but we’ll still call it expertise.

    As a typographer I would support a single-space standard not because I had any real evidence in its favor, or any personal conviction about the issue, but because I knew it was the industry standard. If I bucked that standard other typographers might claim I was a witch and try to steal my clients, and that would be bad for business.

    But fear would not be my only motivation. Like a real estate agent repackaging a property as a new listing when it had already been on the market for a year and a half, I would also take solace in knowing that I was supporting, and supported by, an industry-standard practice. (Tip: it’s a lot easier to claim expertise if you follow industry-standard practices.)

  • Creative Control
    We all know people who are meticulous. While it’s probably unfair to generalize, my guess is that typographers tend to be meticulous. Where you or I might notice badly-printed type or a font that is difficult to read, typographers note the arc, slope, pitch, radius, thickness, heft, balance and emotional resonance of every line in every character in every font that meets their eyes. And that’s before they judge how individual lines come together to form a single character, how characters look when they make words, how words appear when trained in sentences, how sentences block into paragraphs, and how those paragraphs represent on the page.

    Whatever else you may think about typographers, these people are not slackers. They care. Maybe too much, but who among us has not gone off the deep end over an abiding passion — if not also enjoyed doing so?

    Given how much time typographers spend thinking about meticulous issues — how deep they look into every nook and cranny of each character they come across — the one thing they know for sure is that nobody knows type the way they know type. Writers and readers don’t care the way typographers care, so when it comes to trusting someone’s aesthetic judgment typographers tend to trust their own. And I don’t blame them.

    Because a blank space is blank space, writers and readers naively assume that it’s literally nothing. But to a typographer the width of a blank space is critical to the balance of any printed text. Blanks spaces show up (so to speak) between every word, and after every sentence, so in terms of prominence they’re right up there with e’s, a’s and t’s. (In languages other than English your letter frequency may vary.)

    The width of each blank space that accompanies a font has been agonized over in a way that you have never agonized over anything in your life. There is no aspect of the width of that space that was not considered and reconsidered and checked and rechecked before it was put on public display.

    When a vandal comes along and adds a second blank space after a period, the average typographer responds as an architect would if a second identical kitchen was added to a house they designed. Or how a husband or wife would react if their spouse married again without first getting divorced. To a typographer the violation is that extreme.

  • Ease of Use
    Imagine that your job is to take what a writer types and create a book from that content. You would probably prefer not to spend time fixing stupid errors or correcting authorial quirks in the manuscript. Over time you might even come to resent writers for their ignorant, selfish, self-indulgent practices, if not also for the way they take you for granted, ignore your contributions, and never take you dancing.

    In the computer age, nothing has simplified the life of a typographer (or editor) like the find/replace function. Rather than search by eye for instances of from transposed as form (and vice versa), each term can be specifically searched for and checked. In a 500-page manuscript the whole process might take a matter of minutes, and with guaranteed success.

    Because writers are stupid, lazy and hateful, they often do things the wrong way. One of the things writers love to do is ignore the power and functionality of margins and styles, choosing instead to format text using endless strings of blank spaces and tabs. I am willing to admit that this is bad practice — even demonstrably ‘wrong’ — but to a typographer such things are felt as violence.

    By insisting that only a single space appear after each period, typographers simplify the question of how many spaces should ever appear together: one. Find/replace can then be used to search for two consecutive blank spaces, and every found instance can easily be corrected.

    Now consider the reverse. If two spaces are allowed after a period, how can a typographer use find/replace to locate an instance where the writer added only a single space? Searching for a period followed by a single space would still find all instances of two spaces after a period. Searching for two spaces would miss any period followed by a single space. And of course searching for a single space would find every gap between every word in the entire text.

    The only way to find instances of a single space after a period when two spaces was intended would be to look at every period with the human eye and check to see if one or two spaces followed. Madness.

For all these reasons I do have sympathy for typographers. For the record, I am thankful for the contributions typographers have made to our culture. For more on typography, I heartily recommend this movie. It will change your life. Or confirm your darkest suspicions.

Reach out, right now, and pick up any nearby book. Open the book and look at any page and I guarantee you the text will be justified. That’s how books are printed: each line begins and ends at the exact same place on the page, making both the right and left margins flush. (Examples here.)

Justified text is so prevalent in every publishing medium that it’s by far the norm. Or at least it was until HTML and browsers came along with a geek-determined single-space-in-all-instances approach to displaying text. Still, even now all physical books, all magazines, all newspapers — everything that the average person might read on any given day — is formatted with justified text.

It’s not surprising, then, that typographers tend to assume any discussion of text is a discussion of justified text. That’s where the vast bulk of the work and need and money is in the typographic profession. (Take a look at Felici’s post again. Every example he provides is justified text. Because most of the examples pre-date computerized justification, the line length and word spacing would have been set by hand.)

Now, contrast this with my own writing history. The vast majority of my writing is done using Word, or various software applications that do not default to justified text. Rather, these applications all use a flush-left, ragged-right paragraph format like you see in this post: the left end of each line is flush, the right end of each line terminates at a word break closest to the page margin. Every email I (and you) have ever written has been flush-left, ragged right. Every blog post or HTML doc, the same.

No design doc, no specification for a game, no script, no dialogue, no work of any kind that I wrote, paid or unpaid, over twenty-five years, has ever required me to use justified text. Until, that is, I formatted my short story collection, The Year of the Elm (TYOTE), for print-on-demand (POD).

True story. The moment — literally the exact second — that I converted the flush-left, ragged-right Word text of TYOTE to justified text, I immediately realized that my habit of using two spaces after a period no longer worked. The gap between each period and the following capital was simply too big as measured by my personal aesthetic.

In that instant I also realized that all of the fuss about declaring a hard and fast rule for the number of spaces after a period was heavily influenced by paragraph format. If you use justified text, two spaces after a period doesn’t look right because automatic justification widens the gaps even more. For ragged-right paragraphs, however, I think two spaces is not only better, but that using two spaces solves an inherent problem.

The Eyes Have It
In what follows I make no claim that any of my observations are original. I’m also quite confident that typographers already have specific terms for the variances I describe. I do claim, however, that my reasoning is correct, and that it voids every argument I have ever heard in support of a universal single-space-after-a-period rule.

I said earlier that one of the things typographers are deeply concerned about is width. Here again is Felici’s image of monospaced fonts in action:

You can see how each letter is given the same width in monospace. Some letters take up the full width of the allotted space (see the splayed feet of the capital ‘A’, for example), while other letters are bounded by considerable white space (the lowercase ‘l’). A proportional version of the same font would look exactly the same in terms of the letters, but would not be padded with white space to achieve uniform widths.

Because typographers know all this they tend to ‘see’ the width of characters rather than the characters themselves. But most people are not typographers. They aren’t trained to think of a character as its width. Rather, the vast majority of people see characters as characters. White space, even if it accounts for part of the width of a character, is not recognized.

When typographers base arguments about type on character width and spacing, I think they overlook a rather obvious point. To see what I mean, consider the following sentence fragments showing a period, a single space, and a following capital:

The thirteen capitals I’ve included represent the various ways the left side of a capital can vary. For example, ‘B’ has a flush-left edge, so ‘D’, ‘E’, F’ and similarly constructed letters have been omitted. Even though each one of the capitals follows a single space and a period, if you look closely you’ll see that the distance from each period to the closest visible part of the following capital varies.

Here are the same letters enlarged, making the differences easier to see:

Look closely at the capital ‘A’ and capital ‘T’. The foot of the ‘A’ lunges toward the period, while the umbrella shape of the ‘T’ means the closest part of that letter is farther away. Each capital follows a period and is separated by one consistent-sized space, but because of the shape of the letter the size of the gap varies.

Here are the same images with an equal-radius dot added, making the differences clear:

As you can see, letters like ‘A’ and ‘J’ squeeze the gap between the period and the following capital, while letters like ‘T’ and ‘Y’ are half again as wide to the eye.

That’s why I use two spaces after a period almost all the time: because in trying to define a single-width blank space that works with all character shapes, I think type designers cut things a little too close on letters like ‘A’ and ‘J’. Yes, that’s my subjective opinion, but it’s grounded in the fact that what typographers say is not true: a single-width blank space does not in fact produce a consistent single-width space. It’s the shape of the following character, not its width, that defines the width of the gap to the eye.

The following two examples of unjustified, ragged-right text are the same in all respects. In the first example there is only one space after each period:

Note that because the text is not justified, all of the gaps look essentially the same even allowing for differences in the shapes of the letters. Now consider the same paragraph with two spaces after each period:

Despite whatever rule you’ve been taught, despite what the experts say, and despite your own personal preferences, do you see any real difference between those two blocks of flush-left, ragged-right text? Yes, it’s apparent that there is more space after each period in the second example, but is it really distracting? Would you have noticed if we hadn’t been talking about the issue? Would it have put you off? Or do you like the fact that sentences are given greater distinction than individuals words?

Now consider the same two examples, only this time each paragraph is justified. Here’s the version with one space after each period:

Notice now that the spaces between words are no longer uniformly narrow, but variable in width. To my eye the text now seems riddled with the same kind of holes that typographers decry when arguing against two spaces after a period. In the first line alone the space between ‘dolor’ and ‘sit’ looks as big as the space after any period.

Here’s the justified version with two spaces after each period:

I believe justification makes a two-space gap after a period too big. But those gaps are not that much bigger than some of the other holes that justification has created. I also want to point out that I’ve been charitable in the above examples. The holes that show up in justified text only increase as paragraph width narrows or font size increases. Here are excerpts of the same texts in paragraphs narrowed by one inch:

Note the growing size of the white-space holes. Now here’s the same text in a newspaper column, with the font size bumped up to 14:

Note the crazy-huge gap on the sixth line between ‘nostrud’ and ‘exercitation’. It’s larger than the gap after any period in the two-space version on the right.

I’m aware that typographers have tricks for dealing with rogue gaps, including hyphenating words. I’m not arguing that typography cannot reduce the size of a hole if the gap between two words becomes distracting. I also readily admit that these last two examples show text that no typographer would put their name on.

The fact remains, however, that justified text — which is still the norm in book, magazine and newspaper publishing — does far more to pepper a page with allegedly-distracting holes than does using a two-space gap after a period in unjustified text.

I say “allegedly-distracting” because the truth is that the gap-width between words and sentences doesn’t matter to most people. The fact is that the width of white-space gaps — unless they are wide enough to make a reader wonder if a word is missing — have little or nothing to do with readability, and everything to do with the same aesthetic preferences that drive much of typography.

Not only aren’t readers slowed down by gaps in words, even when the width of gaps varies randomly as it does in justified text, but research indicates readers don’t even care about the letters between the beginning and ending of a word. If you can read the following text, how distracting can white-space gaps between words possibly be?

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer
in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht
the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses
and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid
deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Again and again every justification (pun intended) that typographers use to reject two spaces after a period fails to hold up. Again and again the issue becomes one of simple preference. Even my belief that paragraph formatting plays a key role in determining when a single space or doubled space should be used reflects my preferences.

What’s ironic in all this is that even though typography has been heavily predisposed to hole-exploding justified text in all mediums for decades, that predominance is now fading for reasons that have nothing to do with typography. Because HTML only recognizes a single blank space, there are no spongy, flexible-width spaces by which HTML text can be justified. As a result, more and more of what’s written and published today appears in flush-left, ragged right paragraphs. (Yet again, readers are apparently oblivious to the momentous impact of this sea change.)

To see what used to be the norm in the newspaper business, take a look at these examples of narrow, justified columns on the front page of the New York Times. Now try to envision the text on the home page of the Times’ website. Can you see the text in your mind? Do you have a memory of the difference between the physical paper and the electronic version? Do you care? Do you know anyone who cares? If someone told you they cared so deeply about the evolution of newspaper copy from justified to ragged-right HTML that it rivaled the hatred they had for people who used two spaces after a period, what would you think of that person?

Two Spaces and HTML
The adoption of ragged-right formatting is being compelled by the use of HTML and browsers, despite an overwhelming historical preference among typographers for justified text. As a result, fewer distracting holes now appear in the text we all read, yet typographers do not seem to be celebrating this evolution with vigor — even as they continue to attack holes caused by adding a second space after a period. Geeks are driving changes in typography that eclipse anything I can think of in the past five hundred years, yet somehow that’s not a big deal. But putting two spaces after a period is still an atrocity.

Typographers may oppose two-spaces after a period for dubious aesthetic reasons, but they have no direct power to intervene. Whether using a typewriter or word-processing software, the option was always left to the writer. But the internet age has changed the status quo. Because browsers do not recognize a second blank space even if it’s typed, the geeks are actually limiting choice in the matter.

Personally, I believe HTML should allow two spaces after a period, or provide a special character that adds a bit more width to the gap after a period. My own typographic aesthetic says the space between sentences should be larger than the space between words, if only to emphasize the distinction. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell a brain-dead machine how to automatically differentiate between the end of a sentence and something like “Ms. Baxter”.

To add a special-width character writers would have to hand-code the character inline, rather than having it applied automatically. As crazy as that sounds, something similar is already being done by many people who write in HTML, and quite often it’s being done in complete contravention of recognized best practices. (By which I mean demonstrably valuable best practices, as opposed to mere aesthetic preference.)

The most common way to add additional spaces to a line is to use a non-breaking space [   ]. This special HTML character forces the inclusion of blank spaces that would ordinarily be ignored by the browser.

Using non-breaking spaces to format an HTML page is possible, and was done with abandon in the old days, but in the modern context it’s a mistake. (Formatting should be handled by CSS as much as possible.) Despite this general prohibition, however, I use non-breaking spaces on my site for specific reasons, including some instances when I add a ‘read more’ link to the first section of a long post.

Here’s what that looks like in HTML:

&nbsp;&nbsp;<a href=”link”>Read more</a>

And here’s how that code appears in a browser:

…blah blah.  Read more

Those two forced spaces keep the ‘read more’ link from moving too close to the period. If I use only a single space after the period, as typographers insist I should, I think it looks too crowded, if not also confusing:

…blah blah. Read more

Back in the day, on my old website, I hand-coded each sentence break with two non-breaking spaces to improve readability. Because the background was dark and the text was light, I felt that adding a bit more room after each sentence-ending period improved the reader’s ability to find their way through a paragraph. (My thinking was that the larger gaps after each period provided reference points for the eye.)

Here’s a sample from that old site, showing periods followed by a rounded ‘G’, umbrella ‘T’, and splayed ‘A’.

Personally I think the space between the period and the capital ‘T’ is too big, but using one space made the gap between the period and the foot of the ‘A’ too small. I opted for clarity in all instances rather than tolerating that too-close gap with the ‘A’. In retrospect, because I was hand-coding each sentence break I could have used only only one space with the ‘T’, but at the time I opted for consistency.

In Conclusion
There is no coherent rationale for insisting on one space after a period, and anybody who tells you otherwise is either parroting someone’s dogma or lying to your face. If you want to use two spaces after a period it’s your choice.

I believe that two spaces after a period works — indeed is preferable — for unjustified text. I believe it doesn’t work for justified text. Those are the general rules I live by.

If there’s a modern standard it tends to be one space, but that’s almost entirely the result of the way in which browsers handle multiple spaces. There never has been, and never will be, a professional typographical study that conclusively demonstrates that a single space better serves the writer-reader relationship.

Still, the fact that there is a quasi-standard is enough to send some writers into paroxysms of fear. Many writers worry that a small, niggling variance from the norm will either brand them an amateur or reveal them to be the amateur they actually are. (We’re all amateurs when we start.) This fear is the weakness that typographical fundamentalists exploit as a means of spreading their toxic views.

In closing his own post, Felici addresses this very point, and makes it clear that he himself does not believe using two spaces after a period is inherently wrong:

Modern spacing aesthetics aside, the main reason not to use two word spaces (or an em space) between sentences is that people will think you’re doing it out of ignorance. It will be perceived as a mistake. You may know better, but you’ll have a hard time convincing everyone else.

I don’t disagree with Felici. The publishing world seems to have more than its share of pedantic bullies who enjoy nothing more than punishing writers whose preferences differ from their own. I can’t promise that an editor or agent or other publishing gatekeeper won’t seize upon the use of two spaces after a period as a means of denying you publication. What I can promise is that if someone is willing to pass on your writing because you prefer two spaces after a period, that person is going to make your life a living hell for a thousand additional reasons, all of them couched in expertise, and all of them equally grounded in personal preference.

The fact remains that the number of people who have ever been even remotely inconvenienced — not bothered, but actually hindered — by two spaces after a period, is 862. And the great if not vast majority of those people were paid to work on the text that deeply offended them, so they got to cry all the way to the bank.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this post, few people ever notice whether one or two spaces has been used after a period. We know this to be true because if two spaces actually did interrupt the writer-reader relationship, the problem would have been resolved a thousand years ago.

As a final footnote, five days after originally publishing his attack on good, honest, two-space loving writers everywhere, Manjoo deleted his opening graph and appended his post with the following:

Correction, Jan. 18, 2011: This article originally asserted that—in a series of e-mails described as “overwrought, self-important, and dorky”—WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange used two spaces after every period. Assange actually used a monospace font, which made the text of his e-mails appear loose and uneven.

Being factually wrong about everything? Paycheck. Two spaces after a period?  Crime.

— Mark Barrett

Ditchwalk Delivered via E-Mail


  1. says

    Wow. I had no idea this was such a hug debate. We were taught in school (in the 90’s, no less) to always do two spaces after the period, but then we were using ancient equipment – our computers still had the floppy disks that you had to insert before you could use the computer. I’m not sure when i noticed that that has fallen out of favor, though. As you’ve stated, unless it looks glaringly “wrong” I don’t pay attention to the size of the spaces before or after a sentence. But them I’m not a lunatic typographer 😉

    • says

      Hi Jo,

      Don’t worry: you’re not out of the loop. The only time something like this becomes a debate at all is when a tiny group of truly bored people loudly insists that there is only one right answer, which as often as not happens to be the one they themselves have adopted.

      My only interest is whether or not a difference or choice matters in practice. In this case, it quite literally doesn’t matter. On the other hand, if you were to omit every third word from a text, I think you’d get fairly unanimous agreement that doing so was an impediment to reader comprehension.

  2. says

    First, you have the distinction of writing the longest article I’ve ever seen on the spacing issue. Second, I can’t believe I read it all. =)

    Let me start by agreeing with you — the issue is not one of great importance, and is mostly a manner of taste. I’m not mandating anything to anyone. That being said, I do prefer the one-space method, for several reasons (which I was itching to point out to you but which you eventually ended up mentioning). First, using one space DOES make editing much easier, especially when there are multiple authors, or co-authors who sometimes use one and other times use two spaces. More important in many of these sorts of cases than the actual answer you come up with is applying that answer consistently: use one space if you like, two if you prefer, but using one sometimes and two other times means at least one of them is wrong. And, as you say, it is MUCH easier to just find and replace all instances of two spaces and replace them with one (repeating if necessary) than the reverse. Done.

    Second, I do find it distracting and annoying trying to convert double spaces to HTML, or e-books, or whatever. Copying a paragraph from your book to post on your website, copying a review from a website to include in your book, copying something from the print version to an e-book version done in HTML … it becomes excessively complicated using non-breaking spaces and such and having to manually re-format each time. One space is much easier and more consistent.

    Thirdly, I do believe that the weight (not a 100% agreement, but over 50%) of authority prefers single spaces these days. I believe it is more technically correct. Let’s put it this way: I don’t think anyone will chastise you for being wrong in using one space, but I can’t say the reverse.

    Fourthly, I find that I prefer the look of single spaces. Yes, this is a matter of personal preference, your mileage may vary. On a related but important note, you point out that you don’t like how double spaces look in justified text. I agree it looks even worse there. But I don’t want to do spacing one way for left-justified text and a different way for full-justified — or have to switch back and forth (which is not easy to go from one space to two, although the reverse is easy). And I think single spacing looks better overall (considering both left- and full-justified text) — or at least is less noticeable at its worst — and that we must pick one style for both uses.

    Finally (and this is really more of a tie-breaker), pressing the space bar just once instead of twice should make your writing a tiny bit faster — maybe not much, but how many sentences will you write in your lifetime? A hundred thousand? A million? (How many extra keypresses in this article alone?) Perhaps the space bar on my keyboard will last a bit longer as well. =)

    And … now I may have written the longest comment on the double-spacing issue.

    P.S.: On a tenuously-related note, this debate reminds me somewhat of the serial comma debate (the second comma in “red, white, and blue”). I find that most people don’t use it, but I think it’s more technically accurate, more consistent, and sometimes serves to enhance clarity (yes, in rare cases, but it never hurts), so I am pretty strongly in favor of it.

    • says

      Hi David,

      I wasn’t going for a record, but now that you mention it I should probably contact Guinness and see if they have an applicable category. As for reading the whole thing, I’m glad it held your interest.

      (I’ve been laughing all evening imagining people clicking on the article, looking at the scroll bar, then scrolling all the waaaay down, their eyes getting bigger and bigger. And now I’m laughing again.)

      Your points are all valid. And you’re quite right about working on collaborative texts: establishing a standard that everyone adhered to would prevent a lot of meaningless work later.

      On the question of porting content between mediums, I agree completely. I’ve been fascinated by the workflow involved in formatting text for Smashwords, POD and Kindle. It’s clear that establishing device-independent and format-independent content makes the most sense, and in that context I agree that a single space is the better standard. (I will probably always write first drafts in Word, and always add two spaces. It how I work, and it’s easy enough to strip the extra spaces out in a single pass using find/replace.)

      As for that extra keypress, you’re right: it may be shortening my writing time. On the other hand, my thumbs will be that much stronger. :-)

      I tend not to use the serial comma, but that’s more a function of rhythm than rule. If it stops my eye when I want the sentence to run, it comes out.

      Finally, congrats on writing the longest blog post reply on the two-space debate. I read the whole thing! :-)

  3. Bill Defelis says

    Amen, brother. Thanks for this post, even if if is impossibly long.
    It’s the vast multitude of posers like this Manjoo, telling other people what they ought or ought not to do, that bothers me the most. Insisting on a ‘rule’ that one space is better than two is no different than instructing people what clothes to wear or which political party is best. He’s chanting the mantra of the cult of the expert, which reinforces the status quo and shackles every institution in our society. “Look, there’s a person saying he knows what’s best. And he’s up on a platform, so he must be right. We should follow him.”
    Manjoo’s argument is fundamentally fascist. No one who truly sees people as individuals would demand conformity over something so trivial, or degrade those who prefer to do it differently. (Fascism: you either unquestioningly obey the powers that be, or you’ll be degraded and then removed from the society.) Unfortunately, that’s a way of thinking with deep, deep roots in the human psyche – as any hour of TV watching will confirm.

    p.s. I’d bet my house that Assange is as much a bad guy as Daniel Ellsberg was. That’s why he’s being attacked in every imaginable way, no matter how puerile.

    p.p.s. As for me, I prefer double spaces, particularly because of how justified text frequently shrinks single ones to almost nothing. Better a little more space sometimes than not enough. But that’s just me.

    • says

      Yeah, it’s the wild west over here at Ditchwalk. If we’re not using two spaces after a period, we’re writing crazy long blog posts in complete denial of bullet-point driven, reader-friendly, SEO-savvy, ADHD-safe blogging conventions. :-)

      I hadn’t really made the leap to fascism, but because it’s late I’ll gladly go there. Autocratic, despotic and tyrannical are also good labels. (I can’t believe I didn’t work those into the blog post. Maybe I’ll revise and extend my remarks in the future.)

      In any case, I’m with you, obviously. Whether it’s a clerk at the DMV or a teacher at school or a cranky relative during a family holiday, there always seems to be one person who just has to insist that everybody see things their way. Even if the issue is meaningless.

      When it comes to writing, I don’t have any tolerance for that. Too many people who want to write get shouted down and picked apart and undermined and intimidated by people who have no objective but tearing others down. Add them to the writer-killers in high school and college, and it’s a wonder anyone aspires to write anything after running that kind of gauntlet.

      Props to those who provide support without making promises or imposing their own views.

  4. asrai says

    I’ve never noticed a difference in one or two spaces. I didn’t know there were people who could look that closely to tell if there was one or two, I assumed people had better uses for their time.
    How wrong i can be.
    For faster typing I usually use one, but occasionall fall into habit of the early 90s when I learned to keyboard and use two spaces,

    • says

      You’re in the great majority of people who never notice such things, and with any luck you’ll stay there. :-)

      If one or two spaces was a big deal, it would have been dealt with by now. Insisting that it’s important is a petty pursuit.

  5. Rachel Dacus says

    This is the most ridiculous essay I’ve ever read. I think YOU’RE off you OCD medication! I waded into this sorry mess hoping to gain a little enlightenment about the different perspectives on this topic, and found in the first two screens not one style manual, not one authority on the English language, quoted. Just a ridiculous rant. Waste of time. Worst of the Internet.

    • says

      Hi Rachel,

      You’re quite right, I don’t cite any authorities other than the ones cited in the original offending post. My thinking — and I stand by it — is that you can find all the authorities you want or need on your own.

      My post is actually anti-authoritarian. There’s no rule about how many spaces should follow a period, there’s no basis for a rule, there never will be a basis for a rule, and the people who insist that there must be a rule are first and foremost invested in rules, not creativity or craft.

      I’m interested in things that make a difference for the reader. Whether one space or two is used after a period, it doesn’t make a difference to the reader.

        • Jackson says

          Quite right Brian, I think the whole article would look strange if it were set with double spaces instead of single. Professional typographers strive to create an even page texture or ‘colour’ for a better reading experience, why introduce unnecessary white spaces that add visual noise to the page? Just look at the above comparison between single-spaced and double-spaced paragraphs.

        • SamIAre says

          That probably has more to do with how HTML works than it was a conscious choice. By default HTML strips out consecutive spaces and only allows one at a time. The author could have put 19 spaces after each period and 30 between words and we would never know.

          • says


            And also: the irony! Forced to accept a choice not by typographical rule, but by the machine itself! Next thing you know we’ll all be compelled to use serif fonts.

    • Andrew says

      Hi Rachel,

      As for experts: Someone needs to do for modern typographic “experts” what Jane Jacobs did for architects and city planning experts, which is to demolish the idea that the aesthetic preferences of a few should be allowed to destroy livability (or, in this case, readability) for everyone else.

      I’m regularly plowing through dense, abbreviation-filled material, and the documents where “enlightened” typographers have decided that no extra space is needed after the end of a sentence to distinguish it from other uses of the period are exhausting and aggravating. (Note that I said extra “space”, not extra “spaces”, BTW; any typographer worth his or her salt should be able to insert a narrower or wider space character as appropriate. Unicode has almost a dozen available differing-width single-space characters, for all your obsessive-compulsive it-has-to-look-just-right spacing needs.)

      If modern typographers want to claim real, useful expertise around spacing, perhaps they should take the time and care demonstrated by the old masters of the craft, who really did care about the ~reader~, not just about blocks of text as unimportant visual elements on a page. For example:

      “Another rule that is inculcated into beginners, is, to use an m quadrat after a Full-point: but at the same time they should be informed, not to do it, where an Author is too sententious, and makes several short periods in one Paragraph. In such case the many Blanks of m-quadrats will be contemptuously called Pigeon-holes; which, and other such trifles, often betray a Compositor’s judgment, who may be a good workman else.” (Philip Luckombe in The History and Art of Printing, London, 1771, from

      ~There~ is a typographer who demonstrates care and craft, who balances the needs of the reader with aesthetic judgement. No “expert” sticking doggedly to “one space only!” has reached near that level of understanding, craftsmanship or expertise.

  6. says

    Thanks for this article – I’ve been wondering where this weird “it must be single-spaced!” movement had come from.

    One note:

    Now consider the reverse. If two spaces are allowed after a period, how can a typographer use find/replace to locate an instance where the writer added only a single space? Searching for a period followed by a single space would still find all instances of two spaces after a period. Searching for two spaces would miss any period followed by a single space. And of course searching for a single space would find every gap between every word in the entire text.

    The only way to find instances of a single space after a period when two spaces was intended would be to look at every period with the human eye and check to see if one or two spaces followed. Madness.

    Not quite. If you’re not sure a document is consistently single-spaced, or want to change it from double to single or single to double, do this:

    1. Find/replace “period space” with “period space space” (and also question mark and exclamation mark, etc).

    2. Find/replace “period space space space” with “period space” or “period space space” depending on whether you want one or two spaces.

    3. Repeat step two, to capture any instances where there were four spaces.

    A quick and simple process.

    I’m a two-spacer myself, and will only use single-space (or switch to ragged right justification) if the area the type is in is “too small”. If you’re wrapping, on average, at the eight or sixth word, then two spaces will look too large – but so will many lines where the words are longer than average.

    • says

      Hi Andrea,

      I’m not going to dispute your three-step process as quick and simple. I do feel qualified, however, to testify on my own behalf that I would screw it up somehow. :-)

      I’m glad you’re comfortable as a two-spacer. People need to be who they are, and not let others push them around. It would be a stretch to say that there’s a two-spacer closet out there, wrecking lives, but the ferorcity of the one-spacers is pretty ugly stuff.

      If you can’t be a two-spacer, what’s next? We all have to agree that corn on the cob should be chewed around and around instead of back and forth in rows? I think not.

  7. Sam says

    Thought you might enjoy this, another long article that demolishes even more of Manjoo’s history. It also demonstrates that typographers for centuries preferred the wide space as the standard in justified text (as well as ragged text) — and of course they had ways of dealing with the “holes” in the text, too….

  8. MonaGD says

    Learnt a lot on this blog. You will laugh, but I have always looked askew at one space and even two spaces after a “fullstop” as I see nowadays. (Takes us back in time, eh? “Period” brings to mind something quite different.)

    The emphasis in those early days when I learnt to type in England, was to assist the reader. Irrespecitve of how complicated the communication, in reading, you observed the spaces as silent moments. One after a comma; two after a semi colon; and three (yes, 3) after a fullstop – whether that fullstop appeared singly, or doubly as a colon. Following this reading rule, paced you. It made you sound as if you knew your subject matter even if you didn’t.

    Thanks for enlightening me concerning why “the rules” and practice have changed. Nevertheless, I still find that all words having the same spacing in a paragraph looks unprofessional and hurts my eye. It puts me off wanting to read the article.

    • says

      Hi Mona,

      Thanks for your note — I love the comments about how punctuation has evolved. Over time I think the spacing conventions you describe were actually been assumed by the marks themselves. In my own case I tend to read (and write) for pacing, and I can ‘hear’ the difference in a comma versus a period. (I even throw in a comma at times specifically for pacing, even though it’s not necessary grammatically.)

      Because of the single-space inherent in HTML, fonts are even more critical than they were in book publishing. I’ve seen fonts on web pages that were almost literally impossible to read. (The blog-post fonts originally specified for this site were from the Georgia/Times New Roman family, but I changed that to Verdana/Tahoma for readability.)

  9. Kevin says

    You, sir, are wrong. DTP requires single spacing, and it is the accepted norm and expectation. From a purely logical point of view (i.e. a modern one), why would you need a double space? As a writer AND editor myself, it is unprofessional and annoying. The first think I ever do with my journalists’ pieces is Ctrl-H doubles for singles, lest it drive me insane. And regarding your comparison of the two block texts, the one with the double spacing is very obvious and distracting – it feels like my eyes are doing hurdles.

    However, I did notice that your diatribe is single-spaced. Well done, your layout software thanks you.

    • says

      Talking about accepted norms among people who obsess about and crave discipline and order is like talking about accepted norms in a mob of people who have decided to kill you because you’re different. Those norms might be true, but they’re not necessarily valid — unless of course you dangled a modifier.

      As to why the diatribe is single-spaced, I mentioned that in the piece:

      Because HTML only recognizes a single blank space, there are no spongy, flexible-width spaces by which HTML text can be justified. As a result, more and more of what’s written and published today appears in flush-left, ragged right paragraphs.

      Speaking of which, where are all the people who should be up in arms about this compulsory move to ragged-right text? I’m shocked that typographers have so willingly allowed themselves to be marginalized by technologists in this matter.

  10. Vasan says

    This was a very interesting post, which I happened to stumble upon after realizing that I might have gone overboard admonishing someone for using two spaces after the period, and repentantly doing requisite research (aka Googling) to justify my preference.

    Yes, it is indeed my preference. But that preference is neither single or double spaced. I actually prefer a single space after a comma, 1.2 spaces after a semi and 1.4 after the period (provided it was a proportional font and kerning was turned on). Since I cannot actually use fractional spaces, I tend towards single everywhere (again, all bets are off if not using proportional spaced fonts like Courier, or even when the rendering does not account for kerning or ligatures).

    I used to work in Corel Corporation and was involved in writing the formatting code for CVP (Corel Ventura Publisher), versions 4.2, 5.0 and 6.0. I came up with some complicated algorithm which could plug in the user’s preferences for spacing after punctuations. I in fact arrived at the magic numbers by printing out the Lorem Ipsum passage with varying spacing quotients and asking people which one read better. I, of course, gave most weightage to my own ratings, but nevertheless, those were the figures that I came up with: 1, 1.2 and 1.4.

    My boss said that it looked good, but nobody is going to buy it (or the product for that matter), if I included the algo in the code. Needless to say, that code never made it to production.

    • says


      There aren’t a lot of people who are willing to question their own assumptions, so I’m impressed you decided to do so. That’s a rare trait, and a good one.

      About the idea of fractional spacing, I’m entirely in favor of it, and I think your proportions are probably close to ones I would prefer myself. I know there’s too much resistance to ever allow something like that to even be an option (say, through ctrl-space or some other key combination), but I know I’d use it.

  11. J. Anne says

    Well, well, well. Looks like I’m not the weirdo after all. (2-spacer here). But I agree, one space is better with justified text. Since I use Scrivener for writing, it changes all my doubles to singles lickety-split. I highly doubt that I could change my double habit to a single now. Not after twenty years of typing. So, there. I spent more time reading the entire article, which was perfect BTW, than I did making the adjustments.

    • says

      Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you feel empowered to use two spaces if and when you feel like it. I also agree that stripping two spaces out if you don’t want them in a particular text is so brain-dead easy it’s not even worth talking about.

  12. Paul says

    Just a quick note on the non breaking space in HTML (&nbsp), I think that’s not really clear from your text. It essentially does, what it says: create a space that browser _will not break lines_ at. You should never replace “real” spaces (i.e. spaces at which sentences would break into the next line) with that. So if I were to use two spaces after a period, I’d rather do one normal and one &nbsp to allow for line breaks. Especially at the end of a sentence, the possibly best location to allow a line break 😉
    But still, as you said: “Formatting should be handled by CSS as much as possible.”

    • says


      That’s a great tip about only using one non-breaking space to allow for line breaks.

      (And yes, I try to only allow line breaks at the
      end of sentences.)


  13. says

    I did not have time to read the entire lengthy opinion but, one of the fundamental problems with two spaces is the assumption that all spaces are the same.
    But in typesetting, historically, and now more than ever with new type technology, what is a space, depends. It depends on the font, the style of the font, the size of the typeface, character design and letterform shapes, how it is used, where it is used, and a dozen other factors.
    So yes, one could say, two spaces can work, but it all depends on *where* the use of two spaces (or the equivalent of two spaces) is being used. Generally speaking, in printed matter and on screen for text type, is is almost always better to use a distance less than two of any given typeface’s space character. Yes, a space is a character! There are other spaces in many fonts you can type, like Em, En, and quarter spaces (in metal typesetting, these thin spaces were various sheets of copper and other metals) – just as using *more* than a space character between sentences can be OK but using less than a space would really make reading much harder. Less is much worse than more but too much more is bad too. Hence, why good typesetting is so picky and involves a few years of training to do it really well. In contrast to typewriting. Which is a different device altogether.
    It is all relative. But good typesetting (versus good typewriting) usually means one space character after a period.
    Now, how about paragraph spacing? Full (two) return or just points after paragraph and one return? I say, points after. Full return, again, is for typewriter technology and mono spaced fonts.

  14. Keith says

    Here in Britain, only women have periods.

    We all have full stops, however. But I doubt many of us care enough about whether to type one or two spaces after them to read a ten thousand word essay on the topic…

    Do what you like. I’m a single-spacer, myself.

    • says

      We can’t use “full stop” for “period” in the U.S. because a “full stop” is what you’re supposed to do at a stop sign or stoplight. What we do in practice is a “rolling stop,” or, if you’re from Missouri, a “Missouri stop,” because it saves time and we’re all about efficiency over here. Plus we secretly think rules are for suckers. At least until we get pulled over by the police for not coming to a “full stop.”

      As to doing what you like, I agree — except at stop signs or stoplights.

      • says

        California has “California stop signs” which is code for: glance for cross traffic and drive though with a break tap.

        Britain also uses “rubbers” all day long until they wear out. That is an *eraser* in the U.S. used to rub out or erase pencil marks.

      • says

        Ah, the “rolling stop”… more of a semi-colon than a period.

        Mervyn (below) adds an interesting historical perspective and a very practical reason for adopting a single space standard. However, I doubt that tells the whole story. I think analysis of works that were printed before the days of Linotype and Monotype machines would show variations in the spacing after a full stop (including no space at all). These variations likely reflected the personal preferences of the typesetter, or whoever defined the house style for the printing house.

        My own preference for using the single space with proportional typefaces is not because a second space would break some immutable typographic or universal law, but simply that it is unnecessary. It seems to me that the single space is sufficient for the reader’s eye to register the full stop and the following upper case letter (be it an A or T or anything else), and to take a literal or figurative breath between them.

        I do find that the blockiness of monospaced type makes the demarcation less clear, and I did use two spaces after a full stop in the days when I hammered out text on Remingtons, Smith-Coronas and Olivettis. But I said goodbye to the last of those more than 20 years ago.

        You can’t know the preferences of everyone who will read your text, and you couldn’t accommodate them all anyway. So you may as well do what you like.

        • says

          I find your comment shockingly informative, utterly reasonable and absurdly tolerant. Keep that up and you’ll be banned from the interwebs for life.

  15. Mervyn Cripps says

    Ahhh, but there’s no mention of why the rule of single spaces, not only after the period, but anywhere, came into being? It is because of the Linotype machine. All the letters (matrices) are of brass and fall down into an assembler, then the operator inserts a spaceband with his little finger or ring finger on his left hand gently striking the bar on the left side of the Linotype keyboard. It was early discovered that if two spacebars (which are mechanical devices that slide up and down) are used together, there is a likelihood they might jam and cause a splash or spurt of hot lead aimed more-or-less at the Linotype operator, a situation to be avoided. Thus — one space after a period.

    Miss Wotsername who had what seems to be the main book on typing, insisted on two spaces because typewriters were a unispace font. Those who were taught this way keep saying “This is the way I was taught so it must be right!” Ha.

    Put me down as a typesetter who prefers one space unless it is a unispace font.

    — from 40 years in a newspaper composing room.

    • says


      Thanks for the historical footnote. It’s amazing how often we ascribe choices to logic or reason when they are in fact driven by practical limits.

  16. SamIAre says

    If you strip aesthetics and convention away entirely you can make a much larger argument for one space than you ever could for two.

    Every character should mean something. Spaces are highly decorative in that they don’t mean anything by themselves, but they help us to visually separate one thing from the next. We put a space between words to signify that one has ended and the next has begun. We put a space after a period so that we have a visual indication that the sentence has ended and we aren’t just looking a a strange word with a period in the middle of it. To say that in the case of ending sentences we somehow need two seems entirely arbitrary and random. You might as well argue for two spaces between words.

    Or even better, if you’re claiming that the end of a sentence is somehow not clear using only a period and a space, maybe we should arbitrarily double the punctuation as well?

    • says

      If you strip aesthetics and convention out I’m not sure there’s anything left. As you point out, spaces should mean something, but what does ‘mean’ mean? I take it to mean demarcation: here’s the end of one thought and here comes the next. But that’s obviously subjective, and thus aesthetic on some level.

      As noted elsewhere, I’d prefer a single wider space at the end of sentences rather than one or two of the default between-words spaces, but I don’t have that choice. Maybe some day computers will advance to the point that we can actually have a choice in the matter, instead of being constrained by the limits of font technology and the people who code it.

    • JimH says

      Perhaps spaces “don’t mean anything by themselves”, but then most single letters don’t mean anything by themselves either.

  17. RTaylor says

    Interesting piece. I would add the following points:

    1. As a writer/author you shouldn’t have to concern yourself with this anyway. It’s the copy editor / typographer who should be worrying about the punctuation – that’s their job.

    2. Another rationale for single-spacing is to avoid redundancy. Theoretically at least, one space suffices; so a double space is unnecessary. Modern typography is founded on such pragmatism.

    3. As a copy editor and typographer, I can confirm that double spaces in published texts drive me mad. Rightly OR wrongly.

    • says

      On point one, in an ideal world we’d all be born into an LLC staffed with editors and typographers, and dieticians for that matter. Unfortunately, a great and growing number of authors must confront all such things by their lonesome, unless they successfully launch one of those self-help or happiness scams that takes the world by storm long enough to produce income. Too, as authors, if we’re going to aspire to art at some point in our careers we probably ought to know the whole business of punctuating as well — just to be on the safe side. (I’d be disappointed to learn that Van Gogh outsourced his color choices and brush strokes.)

      On point two, I understand the idea of redundancy in the abstract, but in practice it’s hardly apparent to the average reader because two spaces are simply wider, not demarcated. Which means, again — as you point out — that the only people who really care about the number of spaces as a number are typographers. (Personally I’m not against movements in art, including typography. What I find endlessly annoying, however, is how people involved in any movement in any medium — particularly architecture and fashion — willfully block out the fact that the entire history of their discipline is founded on shifting sands. If change is the only constant, it undercuts any claim to certainty or truth.)

      On point three, you’re not the first person to complain about literally being driven insane by two spaces. At some point I think we need to have a discussion about whether this is the fault of the spaces themselves, or perhaps an excess of concern on the part of the observer. Perhaps we could put together a small conference in a safe and supportive clinical setting.

  18. Eric says

    The problem with your examples is that they are so typographically horrid. When you use 14pt fully justified text in such a narrow measure that the gaps are bigger than the words themselves, using two spaces after a period is the least of your problems. As for a logical reason to only use one space: because it follows the established conventions of written language. A single space goes in between each word. If punctuation is used, it goes after a word, followed by a space. You don’t put two spaces after a comma or semicolon, do you? A period is treated the same way. The punctuation alone is enough to cue the reader to pause. Using punctuation followed by two spaces is redundant and unnecessary. But you don’t think a period followed by one space isn’t enough to delineate separate sentences? That is why each new sentence starts with a capital letter.

    • says

      I think what I find endlessly fascinating about this subject is that it’s so impossible for so many people to acknowledge that personal choice has any say in the matter. There must be an iron-clad rule and it must be adhered to without exception.

      As to the substance of your note, what is a “single space”? If you read the entire piece and the comments you’ll see that I’m ultimately advocating for a slightly larger “single space” between sentences than between words. That’s all. And all in the service of clarity only.

      As to capitals solving the problem of clarifying sentence breaks, capitals can be strewn throughout sentences as well, meaning the eye must necessarily learn to ignore them as arbiters of sentence structure.

      • Eric says

        This is a rule, just the same as where a comma goes in relation to closing quotation marks is a rule. Just the same as starting a sentence with a capital letter is a rule. Just as there are rules that say when to use an em dash, when to use an en dash, and when to use a hyphen. Written language has tons of rules, why are you uncomfortable with this one?

        It is true that spacing is a fluid measure. A typographer knows this and sets values for the amount of space in between words, the amount of space between letters, and the amount of space between lines of text. They are all relative to one another. That being said, a single space is what is placed into text when someone hits the space bar. A double space is when someone hits the space bar twice. Really. A space is the same as any other character on the keyboard. If you’re working in MS Word, what comes out is what the type designer defined a “single space” to be.

        While capitals can be in anywhere in a sentence, it is the combination of the capital, preceded by a space, preceded by a period that is the demarcation line between sentences. That, in and of itself, should give the reader enough clarity without the need for a second space.

        I’m also not sure why people think that sentences are some golden unit that need to be segregated from one another more so than they already are. Multiple sentences make up a paragraph, just as multiple clauses make up a sentence and multiple words make up a clause, etc. Why is no one arguing for an extra space after a comma for the sake of clarity? Or two spaces after every word, just to be sure?

        • says

          There’s no way to beat aesthetics out of the equation. You can argue any rule or supporting context you want, but at the end of the day everybody’s just choosing what looks right to them. The only thing I’ve argued is that the self-evident relevance of personal preference ought to be acknowledged, but typographers can’t stand that. If what they’re doing boils down only to choice then their whole practice is fraud — or at least fashion.

          Typographers get around this by insisting that they’re all about clarity, but there’s no supporting evidence that a single space improves readability, so again the question defaults to preference. I can’t help it if an entire generation of typographers has fallen dutifully in line like personal trainers who advocate the equally baseless assertion that one must drink eight glasses of water per day. As a factual matter there are no facts to support either of those assertions.

          If believing in a spiritual or scientific certainty that doesn’t exist helps typographers get out of bed and fuss with fonts that’s fine, but I don’t have to join the cult.

        • says

          I apologize for jumping into a comment thread a few years late, but seeing as I am personally a counterexample to the assertion that, “it is the combination of the capital, preceded by a space, preceded by a period that is the demarcation line between sentences. That, in and of itself, should give the reader enough clarity without the need for a second space,” I could not resist jumping in. Consider for a moment any sentence written about J. Edgar Hoover, for example, and the presence of a capial preceded by a space preceded by a period. Similarly for mentions of C. Everett Koop, and in any text where the author still uses periods after abbreviations for honorifics, such as Mr., Mrs., Rev., Hon., etc.

          D. Glenn Arthur Jr.

          • says

            In the eternal struggle between good and evil, two years is but a few grains passing through the stricture of an hourglass.

            Unfortunately, the jackbooted thugs who insist on totalitarian compliance based on nothing but adherence to rules will never give up, wake up, or acknowledge their own mindless servitude, which is why your perceptive contribution to the cause is so welcome.

            (Plus, I never get tired of this post. It makes me laugh.)

  19. Edna Mode says

    This is nothing more than long-form denialism. Nearly every professionally designed book, newspaper, and magazine in the world uses one space between sentences. Every typography authority says to use one space. You’re right that the reasons behind the rule may be arbitrary. You’re also right that fashions may change in 10 or 20 or 50 years. But so what? Today, there is a rule. And that rule is one space.

    Your argument could be launched — indeed, has been launched, for decades — against issues of grammar, spelling, and usage that we can all agree are arbitrary, annoying, or difficult. Those are also areas of language where the reasons for the rules can be murky, and the rules may change over time. Nevertheless, they are still honored as rules. This topic is no different.

    Is it your choice to go against the one-space rule? Sure. You can use two spaces. You can also spell words wrong. You can also abuse punctuation. But with all of these practices, you risk signaling to readers that you are a sloppy or uneducated writer. That’s also your choice, though most writers — especially self-published writers — aren’t looking for ways to alienate readers.

    • says

      Actually, it’s a lot more than long-form denialism. It’s a hard-hitting, fact-driven expose of a charade that typographers have been perpetrating on otherwise innocent people for decades. It’s a repudiation of mob rule, an attack on intolerance, and an unmasking of blatant lies.

      Appeals to authority are tautological if you’ve already duped people into believing your argument. There is not one shred of evidence that anyone other than a meticulous if not obsessed typographer ever notices the width of spacing between sentences. Which means arguments that a single space is necessary for clarity or any other utilitarian reason are void.

      As to your point that this rule is as important as any other, that’s patently false. If I spell the word ‘perplexed’ as ‘applesauce’ I have no defense when people object. But if I put two spaces after a period and the only people who notice are those who have a vested interest in controlling the behavior of others so they can sleep at night, that’s something else.

  20. Michael Cole says

    June 2012: Only just come across your article. Fabulous. But small correction required. You say …

    Now consider the reverse. If two spaces are allowed after a period, how can a typographer use find/replace to locate an instance where the writer added only a single space? Searching for a period followed by a single space would still find all instances of two spaces after a period. Searching for two spaces would miss any period followed by a single space. And of course searching for a single space would find every gap between every word in the entire text.

    The only way to find instances of a single space after a period when two spaces was intended would be to look at every period with the human eye and check to see if one or two spaces followed. Madness.

    Not true. I’m doing what you say can’t be done every day as part of my own major proof-reading activities. Two different methods …

    A. If merely wanting to change all examples of “period single-space” to “period double-space” without caring where.

    Replace all “period space” with “Period double-space” (this of course makes all natural “period double-space” become “period triple-space”). So follow by replacing “period triple-space with “period double-space”.

    B. If wanting to isolate and examine all examples of “period single-space”

    Replace all “period double-space” with (say) “periodQQ” (without a space between period and QQ). Then search for “period single-space” to do with what you want. When finished, replace all “periodQQ” with “period double-space” or whatever.

    For my own part, I fall into the double-space preference camp although without prosletysing. However, as a full-time arranger and presenter of text for documents and different websites (although not a typographer), I insist on consistency within a single document. If single, stay single; if double, stay double.

    Best wishes,

    Michael Cole (York, North Yorkshire)

    • says


      Thanks for your work-arounds, they’re awesome. And not just because they further deflate the idea that dealing with two spaces after a period is impossible.

      It amuses me how often people make the argument that a few extra button clicks equals some kind of labor abuse. As you note, converting from one preference to another is simply not that big of a problem, particularly in the computer age. I could understand if type were still being set by hand, but it’s not. Yet the complaints still persist, as if what’s being proposed is six months in the hold of a musty ship, manning oars that open new and bloody blisters by the hour.

  21. MD says

    I feel I should say a few things in defense of single space and double space.
    Every person on this planet has slightly different handwriting (remember those days when you used to write things by hand?). Everyone has different styles that match their own personal preferences. If someone likes larger spaces at the end of a sentence, they will make their space larger. Simple. No one can really argue about it, since their own spaces will never be the exact standard either.

    Computers pose a problem though; these spaces ARE defined. Some people will naturally grow accustomed to the standard sizes, others will still do whatever looks better to them. And why shouldn’t they? It all started as personal preference, there’s no reason for that to change now.

    Me? Well, I always use a single space. Why? Two reasons. One, I personally don’t find it necessary. A period is enough for me to tell where a sentence ends and another begins. Two, I am extremely lazy. Having to hit the spacebar twice and having to check to make sure I did it every time will drive me insane. But if I’m reading and someone uses a double space… I wouldn’t know. I can never tell the difference unless I specifically look for it.

    As for the people who are out to murder every single double spacer on this planet… What’s wrong with it?

    You say it doesn’t look as nice or professional as single space? Obviously they disagree. They are entitled to their own style, as are you. No one bashes you because you use a single space.

    You say it’s a rule we all have to follow? Not really. More often than not, rules like these are just the common practice. If it weren’t for coding problems a large number of people would still use double spaces. But instead, most people use a single space, and this was eventually adopted as common practice. There was never a worldwide gathering of writers and typographers that decided a single space was the new law.

    What other arguments could someone use… oh, the famous “Everyone else is doing it, why not you?”

    You know, kids these days listen to these forms of music called Pop and Rap. I even see adults my age (early twenties) listening to it. I want no part of it. If I had to listen to the same music they did, I would rather pour molten lead into my ear canals instead. It would probably hurt less.

    ONE LAST THING: The average reader DOES NOT CARE whether there’s a single or double space. Stop trying to “convert” people to your style just because you DO care. Reading something with double spaces is not going to kill you, I promise. Besides, it’s rare enough these days to see anything with double spaces in the first place. You don’t have to murder someone when you do.

    If there is one thing we should be focused on abolishing, it’s the use of text speak in professional writing. I’ve seen it. It’s horrible.

  22. Danny says

    I am not a fanatic, but I do prefer one space after a sentence. And while you have it in for Manjoo, I do see his point, because so many people were trained to follow the two-space rule that they dismiss one-space after a period as “wrong”. Rather than argue, I simply switched over to one-space and nobody seems to have noticed. Call it “stealth one-space”.

    • says

      Hi Danny,

      You’ve hit the nail on the head: nobody ever notices these things except pedantic absolutists.

      My complaint about Manjoo is that his rational for being a pedantic absolutist is as unfounded as the practice he criticizes. Intolerance is an ugly thing in any context, and all the more so when it’s justified using evidence that is demonstrably false.

  23. David says

    I find that in today’s writings (in my field at least) that the use of a period occurs more often within a sentence. Examples: Figure 5.1, Version 6.22, Word.exe. Because of this I feel the need to double space to be clearer where the sentence ends.

    • administrator says

      It’s an excellent point, David, and reminds me that I had that very experience only recently. I was reading some specification-heavy documents and my eye kept faltering over periods that were being used for classification.

      As I think someone else pointed out in the comments above (or maybe I read it elsewhere), even honorifics (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., etc. — including etc., when it appears in the middle of a sentence) can cause the same problem. And that’s particularly true on web pages, where HTML refuses to honor a double-space, unless you include a non-breaking space along with it. (As you probably know, but for the benefit of other readers, you can insert one any time in HTML by pressing &nbsp;).


Comment Policy: Ditchwalk is a wild place, but not without tending. On-topic comments are welcomed, appreciated and preserved. Off-topic or noxious comments are, like invasive species, weeded out.


  1. […] myth is thoroughly destroyed by three 2011 articles I recently came across. Mark Barrett’s Two Spaces After a Period argues from aesthetics and experience, providing a number of screenshots to illustrate how the […]

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