Two Spaces, Or One?

Estimated reading time: 3 minute(s)

Being one who has loved writing for as much of his life as he can remember, you’d think that the basics of grammar and punctuation would be the proverbial “old hat” by now, right? Well, sadly, I must admit to a(n incorrect) habit that I just CAN NOT break.

ONE space, Greg… NOT TWO!

It’s not something I made up. I was definitely instructed to do so. TWO spaces after a sentence. That’s how you do it.

But apparently, it’s not.

One day I needed to get to the bottom of this conundrum, so I turned to trusty Google for the answers. And of course, it did not disappoint.

I found an article published about one year ago now cleverly titled, Space Invaders The author not only unequivocally states that the proper spacing is ONE space, he also points out some of the reasons we have used—and were taught to use—two spaces.

For example, he explains:

Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It’s one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men’s shirt buttons on the right and women’s on the left. Every major style guide—including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style—prescribes a single space after a period. (The Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, used widely in the social sciences, allows for two spaces in draft manuscripts but recommends one space in published work.) 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. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do. (Also see the persistence of the dreaded Caps Lock key.)

I miss my typewriter … but I guess it got me into this bad habit!

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. Here’s the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.

So there you have it, folks. From now on I will aspire to present my elocutions in properly punctuated form: one space, not two.

I thank you in advance for a good measure of grace while I form my new habit. 😉

7 Comments

    1. Chiots Run… I think you intended this comment for one of the posts about our backyard hockey rink 😉 Re: that, I’m pretty much already in that camp. Everything we’ve done this year will just make our rink NEXT year super fantastic! (Then again… perhaps we should investigate a move to Maine, or something…) 🙂

      Reply

  1. I have always used one space; militantly insisted upon it actually. People have commented on it. Weatherly’s TA used to systematically go through all my papers “correcting” every spacing error. I refused to change them though on further papers. BURN ON HIM!!!

    I didn’t know that it was right. I just thought it looked better than two spaces. Plus, think of all the paper we could have saved!

    Reply

    1. Chi, this post was from some IM conversation we had many months ago. Finally got around to finishing it. Thanks for setting me straight on the one-space thing. I’m actually doing much better with that!!

      Reply

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