The relative sizes of several space characters. The spaces are shown in 30pt Times New Roman.© J. Bear
How big is a space? Not space, the final frontier. We're talking about much smaller spaces you type on your keyboard. It's the space you create with the space bar as well as specific lengths of space that require special keystrokes and may vary by the font you use.
Not all spaces are created equal. And spaces between words and sentences differ among the many written languages of the world. For the purposes of this spaced-out article I'll stick with the English language primarily and spaces most used in typesetting. We'll touch on Web spaces too. As a whole these are white space characters. (Related to but not to be confused with the design principle of white space.)
It's not only space between words and sentences that become an issue in print and the Web. There are customary conventions when it comes to space before or after certain symbols and abbreviations. In English there is typically no space between a number and the percent (%) sign but it's not necessarily wrong to write 15 % instead of 15%. Yet, in other languages a space before % is the norm. Sometimes spaces are used to improve the appearance of the text rather than because of any specific style guide. For example, in some fonts a designer might feel that an em dash needs a little space separating it from surrounding text — like this, instead of—like this.
The QA conference is planned for AprilIn the (exaggerated) example, above, it would be better if the date, time, and Mr. Johnston's name could each appear together instead of breaking to the next line. This can be achieved with a non-breaking space between the parts you don't want to be separated. The software will either keep the text together at the end of the line or break earlier moving it all to the next line. Other names for a non-breaking space include: non-breakable space, fixed space, or hard space.
5. I'd like all the team leaders to arrive by 7
AM for a quick run-through. You are also
expected to attend a break-out session at
noon with special guest, Alexander Finlay
Johnston, V.P. of QA Operations South.
In HTML, a non-breaking space holds words together, can be used to insert indents, and do other layout tricks.
See the table at the end of this article for names, descriptions, and codes for 12 different white space characters.
Some designers find that a normal space or no space between certain characters is unattractive. Instead they will insert em, en, thin, hair spaces, or some other spacing. In some types of typesetting including mathematical or scientific formulas, spaces that are thicker or thinner than normal spaces are required or at least preferred. In other cases, it's a matter of opinion or preference of the client or designer. Some places where these spaces may be used include:
Tutorials and standards on using special space characters:
Some of the most common space characters are shown and described in the following table. Note that some browsers may not display some of these characters correctly, if at all. To insert these special characters on a Mac use the Character Palette/Character Viewer. For Windows use Character Map (use Alt + 0160 on the numeric keyboard for a non-breaking space). Note that not all fonts contain all these special space characters.
To quickly find all the available space characters in a font using Windows 7 Character Map:
A Dozen Space Characters
|Normal (breaking)||approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of an em but varies by font; also called blank space or word space||use spacebar||U+0020|
|Normal non-breaking||same size as a normal space but won't allow an automatic line break|| ||U+00A0|
|En||half the width of an em; also called a nut|| ||U+2002|
|Em||width of an em; point size (height) of typeface; also called a mutton|| ||U+2003|
|Three per em||about 1/3 of an em; also called Third space or Thick space||U+2004|
|Four per em||about 1/4 of an em; also called Quarter space or Mid space||U+2005|
|Six per em||about 1/6 of an em; also called Sixth space; may be same as a thin space||U+2006|
|Figure||about the width of a single monospaced digit (number) in a typeface; tabular width||U+2007|
|Punctuation||about the width of a period, comma, or exclamation point (the character and the space surrounding it)||U+2008|
|Thin||about 1/5 to 1/8 of an em|| ||U+2009|
|Hair||about 1/10 to 1/24 of an em; thinnest space in a font; also called hairline space||U+200A|
|Medium Mathematical||4/18ths of an em; used in mathematical typography||U+205F|
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