One or Two Spaces after a Sentence?

The “two space” rule dates back to the days of printers and typesetters when more space was needed to illustrate the difference between the spacing between words (which was smaller) and the spacing between sentences (which was bigger). The average writer didn’t have to think about it.

With the advent of the typewriter, suddenly everyone could create printed texts. At that time, there was only one font and all the letters took up the same amount of space. That meant the skinny “l” and wider “w” occupied the same amount of space. The emspace spacing standard was approximated by the typewriter by using one space after words and two after sentences. Thus the so-called two-space rule was born.

In the mid-20th century, that standard began to change. Improved typesetting technology made it easier to print texts with uniform spacing. When computers came on the scene, word processing programs started offering a plethora of fonts, each of which was programmed to space characters proportionally. In this case, “l” takes roughly one-third of the space that “w” does. In turn, most computer fonts will automatically give you enough room between sentences with one space. According to most stylebooks, such as The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, you always use a single space after a sentence. Also, page designers encourage people to use one space. If your document has two spaces, they have to go in and remove the extra spaces.

Some think the double space looks messy because it leaves holes and “rivers” in blocks of text. Some think the double space makes it easier to process sentence breaks. Others think it’s easier to type one space. While still others think it’s easier to type two spaces because that’s how they learned it.

These days, the two space style is sometimes preferred for pre-publication manuscripts but most work is published with the one space style. If you’re texting on your iPhone you can have it both ways—a quick double space with your thumb will come out as a period with one space after it. That shortcut pairs the traditional typing action with the modern look, reconciling both factions through technology, the very thing that drove the wedge between them in the first place.

Even if you don’t care either way, when you’re typing something, you have to choose between the two.

How many spaces do you use?

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