One or Two Spaces After a Period?

By Maeve Maddox

Among the most acrimonious writing-related debates one finds on language blogs is one sparked by the innocuous question, “Do you put one or two spaces after a period?”

Wriing in Slate, Farhad Manjoo borders on the abusive:

Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong. […] And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste.

The two-spacers can be just as aggressive:

As a US Marine, I know that what’s right is right and you are wrong [about the spacing issue]. I declare it once and for all aesthetically more appealing to have two spaces after a period. If you refuse to alter your bullheadedness, I will petition the commandant to allow me to take one Marine detail to…impose my rule. Thou shalt place two spaces after a period. Period. Semper Fidelis.–from the CMOS forum

The one-space monomyth suggests that in some utopian past before the invention of the typewriter, typographers knew better than to leave that “ugly” extra space between sentences.

According to the myth, because the keys on those clunky typewriters made all letters take up the same amount of space (the “i” key was as wide as the “m” key) the typist needed to leave two spaces between sentences so that readers could see where one sentence ended and the other began. The implication is that before the typewriter, typographers had put less space between sentences.

A glance through some of the books in my own library is enough to refute the notion that leaving a wide space between sentences came in with the typewriter.

In my Hogarth Moralized (1831), the spaces between sentences are at least em quads (spaces as wide as a capital M). In my Cassell’s Library of English Literature (1883), the spaces are wide enough to drive a truck through; ditto my collection of English textbooks from the 1930s and 1940s, although my Modern Library editions (very cheap at the time of purchase) already show the narrower spacing.

Leaving a wide space between sentences did not come in with the monospacing of the typewriter. And the use of two spaces after a period is not automatically “ugly and wrong.” It’s a matter of typographic convention.

Critics like Manjoo may feel that one space after a period is prettier than two spaces, but that’s merely his opinion. The one-space convention has triumphed, but not for reasons of aesthetics; it is a typographical evolution driven by changing technology.

Two articles that do a great job of documenting the evolution of the spacing convention are, How Many Spaces After a Period? Ending the Debate, by David Brickert and Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong, by a writer at Heraclitean River.

The Bricker article includes illustrations of printed texts dating from 1787 to 1966.

Like typography, style guides evolve. The Chicago Manual of Style, Fourth Edition (1914), recommended “an em quad (wide space) after periods…” However, my trusty, up-to-date online edition of the Chicago Manual of Style lays down a new rule:

6.7 Punctuation and space—one space or two?
In typeset matter, one space, not two, should be used between two sentences—whether the first ends in a period, a question mark, an exclamation point, or a closing quotation mark or parenthesis.

So, “Do you put one or two spaces after a period?” The answer, according to present-day conventions: one space.

If you’re writing for yourself, do what makes you happy. If you decide to submit what you’ve written to a publisher, you can always get rid of the extra spaces with the “search and replace” feature.

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31 Responses to “One or Two Spaces After a Period?”

  • Jason Pos

    When you have short sentences, narrow columns and full justification, double spaces after a period create snaking rivers through the text. Just my observation.

  • ApK

    Ooh, fun topic.
    I was taught two spaces and I still do it.
    I recommend it. If you use two spaces, then a good modern proportional system will virtually ignore the extra space, bringing it in to line with what the one-spacers claim, and if the system is not so good at proportional spacing, or is in fact fixed-width, like many of the code editors I write in, then the extra space seriously helps stuff be readable and not so jammed together.

    As I Navy man, I stand by the Marine cited above: Use two spaces or you’re wrong. (For the humor impaired: 😉 )

  • Scott M

    Here’s something that’s bugged me lately regarding periods. I say lately because I’m sure I knew the correct answer at one time or another.

    When you have a narrative sentence that includes a word or phrase in quotations, and you end a sentence with a word that’s contain inside those quotations, does the period go inside or outside of the quotes?

    Outside just seems to both look right and make what you’re trying to say more clear.

  • Bernadette

    I work for a group that uses two spaces after a period. However, most people who have learned to type in the past 25 years learned to use one space after a period (myself included starting in 1983). So when people are used to typing one space after a period and you have to proof a 200 page document that needs to have two spaces after the period, you are constantly having to make corrections. I’ve created the macro that will let us fix MOST of those instances. However, do you realize how many combinations you must come up with to make sure that there are two spaces between sentences? You must account for a period, a question mark, an upper- or lowercase letter before the period or question mark, a number before the period or question mark, quotes before or after the period or question mark or a question…seriously, you cannot possibly come up with every single scenario of what you have to look for in your macro. I have tried. If there are references in your document you have to take into account two initials with periods between them for authors. You end up with the initials then two spaces then the last name, so you add another variable to your macro.

    Know how easy it is to fix multiple spaces between not only punctuation but also words? Find and replace two spaces to one until there are no more double spaces.

  • Wenzeslaus

    It is also interesting to see how does it work in languages other than English. For example, French and German use single space as far as I know (there is a command \frenchspacing in LaTeX to get single space after sentence).

    Some nations apparently believe that single space is beautiful and that one can recognize new sentence by dot-space-capital sequence. And of course, English, and English writing, is influenced by non-native speakers, so this might be a part of the singe space direction (I don’t say it’s wrong, I actually agree at least with single space).

    Also, are there any differences between US and other English speaking countries?

  • Nick Trusiewicz

    Jason is right.

    Having done typesetting, I can’t count the times I’ve had to do a Find and Replace to eliminate double spaces for publication. They do create “rivers,” which cause the eye to subconsciously move vertically, making the text more difficult to read. This can even be a problem with left justification. (a river is a snaking vertical series of spaces in adjacent lines of text.

    Everyone has seen newpapers’ narrow columns with a word at the left and another at the right with and a long space between. This is another instance where full justification is a convention that I think should be avoided even despite the “rivers.”

    As for the double spaces, I think this may be a problem perpetuated when typing is taught (do they still use typewriters in typing classes? The teachers probably learned on typewriters, though)–the monospaced fonts on the typewriter actually do require two periods to help the readability (which is atrocious), but with the proportional fonts we generally use on computers, they should be avoided. Use two spaces when you are using Courier or any other monospaced font.

    Hint: you can often set your word processor to flag double spaces. It’s usually well-hidden under spelling and grammar checking options.

    And NEVER use all caps throughout a document. It is almost impossible to read.

  • A. Colin Flood

    Single Spacing Periods
    Everything I read in manuals and from technical writers directs me to use one space after periods. I find that it works very well, except occasionally, when an extra space helps readability. Knowledgeable engineers have embraced the one space use as being consistent with the font design and automation of reports.

    James Felici, author of the The Complete Manual of Typography, points out that the early history of type is one of inconsistent spacing. Hundreds of years ago, some typesetters would end sentences with a double space, others would use a single space, and a few renegades would use three or four spaces.

    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.)

  • Bill

    I grew up using two spaces. A graphic designer told me word processing software accounted for the spacing and explained “rivers,” as the comments above do better than I can. I thought I’d never be able to make the change. Then I sat at my computer, began keying, and never hit the space twice again. That was twenty years ago. Think of all the time and effort saved? Oh I know, it only takes a fraction of a second longer, but if you’re a professional deadline writer (I was) it adds up. By the way, when I worked at the Associated Press in 2000 the software they used only permitted one space. Case closed.

  • Sally Bahner

    Love this article and will share it widely among my writer friends. Two spaces after the period SO reminds me of people getting stuck in the mentality of high school typing classes. Is keyboarding (if it’s even a class today) still taught that way?

  • James Barakaat

    I used two spaces after a period for many years through college and as a technical writer and later went back to school for the Master of Technical and Scientific Communication degree. In the Documentation Design course we would lose points if we used two spaces after periods. The best practices that dictate one space was established by typographers in the early 20th century.

  • Moo Kahn

    In high school typing class, we were taught “two spaces” and it has become muscle memory to type that way.
    – but –
    When I started working for various print publications, two-space was out the window – they all want a single space after the period, and they all claim to base that on one of the several ‘manuals of style’ floating around.

    I do have to use “find –> replace” to get rid of the extra spaces.

  • Marilynn Byerly

    As someone who has had more than one publisher, I’d strongly suggest that you learn to use two spaces.

    The reason is simple. Some publishers insist on those two spaces. If you only use one, you will have to hand insert an extra space throughout your manuscript. Not fun.

    If you use two spaces, and the publisher insists on one, then you can use a universal search and replace command which takes less than a minute to do.

  • John Charles Grandy

    One space and be consistent. You people are the best.I love this site. Have a great day.

  • Nick Trusiewicz

    Marilynn,

    If you find yourself in that situation (replacing one space with two), you can still do a find and replace by setting find to a period and one space, and replace to a period and two spaces.

  • Ken Devine

    As a late millennial (born in 1980), I was taught to type using double spaces (it was on an old computing system in 1995, so it may have been necessary), so naturally that’s the only rule I knew, and it became habit. And that’s what’s at the heart of the matter here—we’re all creatures of habit, and old, ingrained habits die very hard.

    I eventually started conforming to the single space during my first tech writing job in 2003. I fought it at first, but then I stopped myself and was like, “Why am I going to this extra effort to add a space and switching between two spacing formats?” It was too much work. It just took me time to realize that one space after a period didn’t look so bad, and I eventually preferred it, realizing how much more professional it looks when there aren’t huge gaps of space between sentences (and especially colons!).

    Here’s another argument for single-spacing: If websites or typesetters are just going to remove the extra spaces, why bother to put them in in the first place? What people forget is that with a single space after a period, *there is still SPACE there.* The combination of the period and the one space is enough to show readers the end of a sentence and the beginning of a new one. They work together.

    Then there’s the issue of double spaces in text messages—the worst! I’ve noticed that some double-spacers stopped doing it in their texts because they realize how unnecessary and time-consuming it is, especially in such a typically abbreviated form of communication.

  • Ed Desautels

    To Nick T. I offer a hearty “Correctamundo!” The author was one step too far in the past, talking (old) typesetting versus typewriters when she should have been talking typewriters vs. word processing applications. The word processing applications allow the proper space–no extra (second) manual space is required.

    As someone who learned on a typewriter, then made the (painful) adjustment to one space after a period following the advent of the personal computer and word processing application (a long time ago, I might add), I can’t fathom the argument made in this post.

  • Steve Craver

    I was always taught one space after a comma, two spaces after a period. It has always worked for me. Semper Fi!

  • Rich Wheeler

    Siding with always one or always two is like asking, “how many hits should I use to pound in the nail?” The answer depends on a number of variables, and one hopes the decision will be made without misinformation such as the one-hitters gave above.

    Problems with the Single Space Arguments

    o How wide are the margins? In narrow newspaper or magazine margins, sentences go on for multiple lines. You can’t blame double spaces for “rivers.” Full justification already screws up the spacing so badly, using the argument about rivers is straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

    o Rivers result from spaces of any size aligning. Wider spaces between sentences don’t become a significant factor unless you write like Ernest Hemmingway.

    o One writer made a point about saving typing an extra character. In other words, saving a percent of time (=money) outweighs considerations about readability. That is lousy customer service!

    o Full justification defeats proportional spacing on lines that get compressed.

    o Consumer-grade word processors lack the intelligence to tell the difference between an initial followed by a period and a period at the end of a sentence; or between a quotation mark within a sentence and a quotation mark at the end of a sentence. Trying to make the space wider between sentences would mess up places where initials or quotations occur, so the programmers take the shortcut of treating all spaces equally.

    o If you measure the spacing, most word processors do NOT make the space after a period wider. The argument about proportional spacing is a myth.

    o Many single spacers contradict themselves by arguing that the double space does not improve readability and then arguing that proportional spacing gives you an extra wide space. The first statement depends on a premise that extra space is bad while the second statement depends on a premise that it’s good. Come on: Try to be consistent.

    Problems with the Double Space Arguments

    o Browsers ignore consecutive spaces because HTML allows use of spaces to give visual structure to the code. If you write for the Web, the second space is wasted time.

    o Some HTML editors will replace the second space with a Non-breaking Space character ( ). The combination of (space  ) can cause a word to indent by one character when it starts a line. (Not common, but it happens.)

    o Although consumer-grade word processors usually fail to provide a wider space between sentences, commercial-grade word processor generally do provide a wider space.

    o The customer is always right. If the publisher insists on single spacing, use single spacing.

    At one time, double spacing was “right,” but technology and cheap editors are changing that, so be flexible.

  • venqax

    I have always assumed that the 2-spaces “rule” was an artifact of typewriters and, perhaps, old-fashioned printing presses. And none of the comments here dispel that notion– everyone references what they “grew up” doing, or “were taught”, probably in the paleolithic age of typewriters. It has nothing to do with grammar or punctuation, so why writers would be concerned about it at all from a “proper English” POV is open to question. I’ll bet anyone who learned the 2-space “rule” learned it in a typing, not in an English composition class. Anyway, with modern word-processing programs there is simply no need to extra space between sentences. The program adjusts all those things, anyway. How often, e.g, do you see hyphenated words in a Word doc? I certainly never do, but maybe I’m an exception.

  • Rich Wheeler

    To Nick and Ed: Not correctomundo. It isn’t that easy. Not only do you need to do search-and-replace with [.][space], but also with combinations such as

    [.”][space]
    [?][space]
    [?”][space]
    [?)][space]
    [?)][space]

    and sometimes

    [:][space]
    [:”][space]
    [:”][space]
    [*][space]
    [*”][space]
    [*)][space]

    and lots more!

  • Rich Wheeler

    To Scott M:

    In Britain, the period (or other punctuation) goes outside the quotation mark.

    In the US, the period (or other punctuation) goes inside the quotation mark unless that causes confusion. For example, an instruction that reads,
    – In the box, type ‘123.’
    implies that the user should type the period. If the user should not type the period, place it outside the quotation mark.

  • venqax

    @Scott M: Rich Wheeler is right–at least so far as SAE is concerned (don’t know about BrE). It does, however, seem correct, logically, to put the period outside the quotation marks when the quotation is only part of the sentence, and to put the period inside the quotation marks when the entire sentence is a quotation or part of one (like at the end of a paragraph of dialogue, e.g.)

    The man said to the boy, “Don’t play with those kinds of hand grenades”.

    “You hit the keys with your fingers, then move your fingers and hit different keys. That’s how you play the piano.”

    The period indicates the end of the sentence, after all, not necessarily the end of a quotation. So if that is what you were getting at, I agree. If not, I still agree with me, anyway.

  • John

    I have to agree with Marilyn Byerly here.

    The correct answer is use what your publisher wants.

  • Roarers

    In my 25 years working near the design and publishing industries, I’ve found almost nobody in the UK or Europe who uses 2 spaces after a period, whereas many of my US colleagues still do. Wonder if there’s some interesting history in that?

    And, of course, I’d just like to point out to all of you that it’s a full-stop, not a period. 😉

  • venqax

    John: I agree with the first and perhaps disagree with the second. Obviously if you want to be published you have to use the publisher’s standards. But that doesn’t make it correct. Some publishers demand something that is incorrect. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it anyway if you want them to publish you. That kind of thing is true in every area.

    Roarers: What do you guys call a comma? A half-stop? Is a semi-colon a three quarter-stop? How does it work…it starts to remind me of hemidemisemiquavers. We call them 64th notes.

  • Chaunce Stanton

    The one-space/two-space debate definitely is not a “right or wrong” issue: just a matter of training.

    Older folks learned it one way, and the younger folks don’t.

    When the older folks die, they at least can die happy in the knowledge that all those extra spaces they left for years and years reproduced like rabbits and took over all their typewritten manuscripts, leaving nothing but big old blanks where all their words used to be.

  • Nemo

    I kinda want a shirt now that says “One spaces go home.”

    I can’t stand the one space in my typing. I HAVE to go back and fix it if there’s only one space just like I have to if there are three. I learned to type in the early 2000s, but my mom had always taught me to put two spaces back when I was hunt n’ peck-ing so it just stuck. When society tried to teach me otherwise I refused. Just like I refused when they tried to take away the Oxford comma.

    You may pry them out of my cold dead fingers, style manuals. I’d like to see your try.

  • Cynthia Lockley

    Two reasons for having only one space after a period:
    1- Accessibility–Double spacing after a period can create rivers within text and make it difficult for dyslexic users to find the end of sentences.

    2- For websites, browsers automatically scrunch multiple spaces down to one space so typing two after a period or colon is just wasted typing time. You could force one by adding   after a space, but it’s not worth the effort and makes reading your text difficult for you with
    “.  ” after each sentence. Worse would be .  Start new sentence.  Start new sentence.   and so on.  

  • Cynthia Lockley

    Oops moderator–I should have used   so the nbsp would show up.

  • Terri Manco

    Two spaces after a period is the rule only when writing with a typewriter, which is probably not something one sees very often these days. If you are using a word processor (i.e., typing with a computer), you leave only one space after a period because the built-in software that right-aligns, left-aligns, or justifies (your choice) the text will insert a space (first and foremost) immediately after end punctuation. If you already have two spaces after a period, and said word processor inserts one or two more (to right-align the text, say), you end up with “rivers of white” down the page. White rivers are not only unsightly, but they hinder readability.

  • Jaap

    I have no idea what people are talking about one or two periods never is an issue I never seem to have the problem since I think periods are overrated period and therefore so is the discussion about double spaces I mean seriously I feel people read much faster without all this overrated punctuation stuff slowing them down am I right

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