Should you put one space or two spaces after a period? The debate over how much space to put between sentences (whether they end with a period or other punctuation) may seem petty, but often it's the little details that make or break a design. In most cases, one space at the end of a sentence is the best choice for typeset material. Not everyone agrees and often for very different reasons. Who is right?
It is generally accepted that the practice of putting two spaces after a period (or other punctuation) at the end of a sentence is a carryover from the days of typewriters with monospaced typefaces. Two spaces, it was believed, made it easier to see where one sentence ended and the next began. Most typeset text, both before and after the typewriter, used a single space.
"The only time more than 1 space was used in a line of type was when we had to justify the line to the full margins."
— Madisonhank, describing typesetting before digital type
Today, with the prevalence of proportionally spaced fonts, some believe that the practice is no longer necessary and even detrimental to the appearance of text.
Speaking of little details, despite what some readers may believe, period is the proper term for that little dot at the end of sentence in American English. In some parts of the world it is, however, known as a full stop: Read A Period By Any Other Name...
With monospaced typefaces every character takes up the same amount of space on the page. A capital M uses the same amount of space as a lowercase i. With proportionally spaced fonts, the characters take up an amount of space relative to their actual width — the i needs less space than the M. (as illustrated by the graphic in the sidebar)
The use of proportionally spaced type makes double spaces after a period unnecessary (if they ever were). The extra spacing is often distracting and unattractive. It creates holes in the middle of a block of text — trapped white space on a smaller scale.
Change can be painful
"The double space after period has been drilled into me so strongly that I don't know if I can ever break the habit."
"I can't get used to single spaces after periods. Even in proportional-spaced type it looks crowded to me."
Habit and reluctance to change are only some of the reasons given for retaining the two spaces habit. Readers also cite readability, age, and appearance. See Creative Spaces: Why You Like Two Spaces After a Period for a sampling of reader responses by topic.
Exceptions to every rule
"Items (term papers, E-Mails, reports, book manuscripts, magazine articles, business proposals, etc.,) printed in monospaced characters require two spaces and have a lot of other stylistic rules designed to enhance readability. Proportional spaced characters don't benefit from most of those rules."
"To my mind, a million books and magazines single spaced also qualify as a resource. I once heard an instructor arguing for two spaces in typeset text, completely oblivious to the single-spaced mountain of material that he reads every day. When this was pointed out to him, he quietly dropped his argument. He'd for years been blind to the type that he actually reads."
— John McWade
"Right and wrong do not exist in graphic design. There is only effective and non-effective communication."
— Peter Bilak - Illegibility
The Bottom Line: Professional typesetters, designers, desktop publishers, and anyone who truly cares about fonts and typography should use only one space after a period or other ending punctuation. However, it doesn't necessarily need to be a standard space character. Desktop Publishing software makes it easy to experiment with other space characters to achieve the best appearance on a case-by-case basis. Save the double spaces for typewriting, casual email, term papers (if prescribed by the style guide you are using), or personal correspondence. Learn how to remove extra spaces between sentences. For everyone else, do whatever makes you feel good.
POLL: One Space or Two After Punctuation, What's Your Preference?
1) One space, always
2) Two spaces, looks better to me
3) I'll try to convince my boss / clients / co-workers to go with one space
Do the people you know agree with your opinion on this? Share this page with your Facebook and Twitter friends and followers and find out if they prefer one space or two.
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