Some people prefer one space after the period at the end of a sentence. Some prefer two. I’m a one-spacer myself.
After I read this Slate article written by Farhad Manjoo strongly supporting one-spacing a few years ago, I posted One Space, Two Spaces…Potato, Potahto? In the piece I noted that the AP Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, and MLA Style Manual all recommend using one space after terminal punctuation marks. I also explained my understanding of the evolution of spacing conventions:
If you went to high school in the years before typing class morphed into keyboarding, as I did, you were probably taught to use two spaces after a period (while typing on your IBM Selectric).
There was a reason two spaces were preferred for typewritten documents. Typewriters give characters the same amount of space without regard to how skinny or wide they are. In a line of type in which a skinny i takes up as much paper as a wide w, putting an extra space after a period arguably makes it easier to see when one sentence ends and the next one begins. That makes sense for those who are using a typewriter or a monospace typeface like Courier, but that’s a rarity these days.
Suddenly last week, I stumbled upon this two-year-old article, which has been slumbering in my Instapaper account for quite a while. The article, which was written — at least partially — in response to Manjoo’s Slate article, begins:
The topic of spacing after a period (or “full stop” in some parts of the world) has received a lot of attention in recent years. The vitriol that the single-space camp has toward the double-spacers these days is quite amazing, and typographers have made up an entire fake history to justify their position.
The author then debunks the story that typewriters were responsible for changing the convention from one to two spaces:
Unfortunately, this whole story is a fairy tale, made up by typographers to make themselves feel like they are correct in some absolute way. The account is riddled with historical fabrication. Here are some facts:
- There were earlier standards before the single-space standard, and they involved much wider spaces after sentences.
- Typewriter practice actually imitated the larger spaces of the time when typewriters first came to be used. They adopted the practice of proportional fonts into monospace fonts, rather than the other way around.
- Literally centuries of typesetters and printers believed that a wider space was necessary after a period, particularly in the English-speaking world. It was the standard since at least the time that William Caslon created the first English typeface in the early 1700s (and part of a tradition that went back further), and it was not seriously questioned among English or American typesetters until the 1920s or so.
- The “standard” of one space is maybe 60 years old at the most, with some publishers retaining wider spaces as a house style well into the 1950s and even a few in the 1960s.
- As for the “ugly” white space, the holes after the sentence were said to make it easier to parse sentences. Earlier printers had advice to deal with the situations where the holes became too numerous or looked bad.
- The primary reasons for the move to a single uniform space had little to do with a consensus among expert typographers concerning aesthetics. Instead, the move was driven by publishers who wanted cheaper publications, decreasing expertise in the typesetting profession, and new technology that made it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to conform to the earlier wide-spaced standards.
The gist of the piece (which is captured well in the title, “Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history)”) is that people can favor one space or two spaces (or more) after a period, but neither is correct. It’s a matter of preference and aesthetics — and typesetting experts have favored more than one space for the bulk of history.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments, or take my poll (click on the poll to see last three years of polling results).