One Space or Two At the End of a Sentence?

By Maeve Maddox

Susan wrote:

I was always taught to double-space at the end of a sentence. Β I recently began working in a law office where I was surprised to find that many of the attorneys . . . do not follow this practice, even when drafting formal contracts and documents. Β Is double-spacing at the end of a sentence a strict rule, judgement call or just old-fashioned punctuation?

Bob Dylan said it, Susan: “The Times They Are a-Changin’

Back when we used typewriters there was a reason to space twice at the end of the sentence.

It’s not so necessary now.

This is what the Gregg Reference says about it:

Now that the standards of desktop publishing typically apply to all documents produced by computer, the use of one space is recommended after the punctuation that occurs at the end of a sentence. Yet this standard should not be mechanically applied.

In all cases, the deciding factor should be the appearance of the breaks between sentences in a given document. If the use of one space does not provide enough of a visual break, use two spaces instead.

The Chicago Manual of Style says it not once, but three times:

A period marks the end of a declarative or an imperative sentence. It is followed by a single space

A single character space, not two spaces, should be left after periods at the ends of sentences (both in manuscript and in final, published form)

In typeset matter, one space, not two (in other words, a regular word space), follows any mark of punctuation that ends a sentence, whether a period, a colon, a question mark, an exclamation point, or closing quotation marks.

So, Susan, one space, not two. And that, according to the CMS, goes not just for periods, but for “any mark of punctuation that ends a sentence.”

I’ve know about the new practice for a very long time now, but I still hit the spacebar twice more often than not.

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36 Responses to “One Space or Two At the End of a Sentence?”

  • Sarah & Debbie

    We are having a heated mother/daughter debate over quotation marks.

    Sarah has always been taught that periods and commas ALWAYS go inside the quotation marks, and that question marks/exclamation points can go outside the quote marks if the sentence is its own exclamation/question.
    Ex: “Joe said to stop.”
    Joe said, “Stop.”
    Joe said all activity would “cease immediately.”
    Would you care to explain “cease immediately”?

    Debbie has been taught that in the case of the last two sentences, the period as well as the exclamation point/question goes OUTSIDE the quotation marks.
    Ex: Joe said all activity would “cease immediately”.
    Would you care to explain “cease immediately”?

    Please tell us who is correct in these instances!!!

  • Sarah & Debbie

    Sorry, I put that in the wrong place! Oops!

  • Deborah H

    Newspaper “style” messed up everything. Every point of space equals money for a newspaper. It’s still important for magazines, but it’s not like newspaper publishing. As for books … take all the space you want. I used to double space between sentences, but finally gave up.

    The advent of the internet has changed all the customary (national) forms of manuscripting, proportional spacing, punctuation, grammer, and spelling (every time I see gray spelled “grey” I cringe).

  • david

    To Deborah H – In the UK I’ve always used ‘grey’. Wikipedia seems to think that this is the ‘international’ usage.

  • spike1

    Indeed, grey is the correct spelling.
    As is colour, flavour and socialise.

    It’s the use of “gray” that makes me cringe, unless it’s someone’s name..

  • Annalaise

    This convention has been adopted because of the functionality of professional typesetting software. In programs such as Quark Xpress and Adobe Indesign a “hard return,” (hitting the return key once) can be assigned a certain amount of secondary leading. This means that the typesetter specifies that before or after a hard return, the program should apply a designated amount of space between the lines. If a double space is used, then that amount of space is also doubled.

    Therefore, a typesetter would be required to go into the document and remove all occurrences of the double space to make it uniform, incurring additional labor costs.

    While the software allows the typesetter to find the occurrences of the double space and replace them with a single space, it has become an industry standard to just use one.

  • sherry roth

    I personally cringe if people misspell “grammar,” but I forgive typos.
    I grew up (born and raised in NYC) for some reason spelling it “grey,” and I still automatically spell it that way sometimes (it looks not so gray, that way…almost like a light grey)…but sometimes my spellchecker snags me on it and sometimes it changes it to “gray” on its own. I’m fine with Brit spellings or American spellings, no difference to me (i.e. no cringeing either way).

    As for one space or two, when I first learned word processing back before Bill Gates took over the word, we had DOS and WordPerfect, none of the fancy fonts and formatting we have now. When a WordPerfect document printed out, it was difficult to read if you only had one space between sentences, and we all got in the habit of double spacing between sentences. So for the most part for me, it’s just a habit now (nearly 20 years later). However, I still think it’s a good idea, because with ONE space between WORDS, it is easier to visually comprehend where SENTENCES end if there are 2 spaces. When you’re scanning a document for something in particular, anything that breaks things up or stands out is helpful, rather than having everything just flowing on, and you end up looking for your needle in the haystack, so to speak. If what you’re looking for isn’t in one “sentence,” you can visually jump to the next sentence more easily if it’s set apart with 2 spaces, and keep jumping until you find what you’re looking for. I am of the opinion that it follows the theory behind creating an outline, which highlights important things so that your eye can find them easily. We are no longer hunters and gatherers; we are spoiled and impatient, and we want information to jump out at us!

  • Lauri Burkons

    You left something out of your post – the reason for the change from two spaces to one space. In the days of typewriters, there was no ability to control spacing. Adding one space after sentence ending was insufficient for reading a clarity.

    Today, most font are proportional and automatically add enough space between characters. So, only one space is needed between sentences.

    It is mostly older people who learned to type on typewriters who have had a hard time making the change. I am actually surprised that this still exists. It is just so much easier to use one space.

  • Ericka

    I suspect that another supporting factor in this one space business is that basic HTML (at least initially) didn’t recognize two spaces. I used to double space, but when working on websites 5+ years ago, found that only one space would be recognized. I’ve always wondered about this though! Thanks for clarifying.

  • Kim Tyndall

    Yes, the change has everything to do with proportional vs. monospaced fonts.

    When you use a proportional font, only one space is appropriate.

    When you use a monospaced font, such as Courier, two spaces are still appropriate.

    Newspapers and publishers used typeset (proportional) typefaces long before personal computers and removed the extra space long ago for visual reasons – it was just too much space in a proportional layout.

  • Sean Craven

    I was taught typing back before consumer-level word processing was available and yes, I was taught to double-space at the end of a sentence for the reasons Lauri mentions.

    The thing to keep in mind is that if your document is intended for print, those double spaces are now an issue that the typesetter/designer has to deal with. Having to correct other writer’s manuscripts quickly cured me of this bad habit.

    I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to find that you could do a search-and-replace in order to change double spaces to single spaces. You may not see the spaces in the dialog box, but your word processing program (or at least Word and In-Design) will make the correction.

    But I still utter at least one or two vulgarities when I receive a manuscript with double-spaces between sentences.

  • PatA

    The rule should read, “do not type (key?) two spaces anywhere in manuscripts or finished pages.” Tables and indents should be used to align test when needed. I am one of the “old typist” who learned on a typewriter, but later (early 1980s) learned how to typeset type. The first “desktop typesetters” would take only one space even though the operator placed more than one.
    Today, the proportional nature of computer/typeset documents is done by all of us, not trained typesetters. The mechanics of how space is divided into lines is still the reason for one space. The computer divides the space for justified type by placing space in the space bands. More than one space leaves “holes” and “rivers” in the overall appearance of text. That is distracting to the readers. Alas, the purpose of the text in the first place: the READER.
    Squint your eyes and look at text on a page. Do you see the white holes where the space is wider than other spaces? Do the white spaces seem to align with each other and make white lines going all over the page? Those are rivers. Now, don’t type two spaces! And learn how to use proper indents, tabs, and tables for other aligned text. All these things also save TIME too.

  • Kate

    I recently took a media writing class that followed the AP style which also states that a single space should be used at the end of a sentence.

    AP also says no spaces after the periods when using initials – what do the other styles say?

  • Deborah H

    This is what happens when I write a comment after three glasses of wine and at two o’clock in the morning: I couldn’t see the red line under grammer.

    (Grammar, grammar, grammar, grammar, grammar, grammar)

    Gray is the preferred spelling in America, which was the point I was trying to make about customary and national forms. The Internet has mixed us all together, which is why we have these discussions. Maeve does such a good job of bridging the ocean that often I forget she’s six hours ahead of me.

  • Lauri Burkons

    Wow, learn something new every day. I have been manually removing those double spaces for years. I never thought of doing a search and replace.

    Now, I know.

  • bad tim

    one space between sentences is one of my biggest pet peeves. i haven’t noticed any font that increases the space at the end of a sentence. this makes it much harder to read text.

    another pet peeve is using grammar and spelling errors to attack a valid point.

    also, our british friend need to realize that the revolution gave us the right to add our own color to the language, gray or otherwise.

  • david

    Not sure if you meant this particular Brit, but not sure how you got to the revolution from my innocent comment about ‘grey’.

  • spike1

    I think bad tim was referring to me.
    πŸ™‚

  • tower_keeper

    Sooo…If I continue to use two spaces am I going to get in trouble? I’ve been doing the double space for a long time and I think it reads better.

  • Peter

    You left something out of your post – the reason for the change from two spaces to one space. In the days of typewriters, there was no ability to control spacing. Adding one space after sentence ending was insufficient for reading a clarity.

    Today, most font are proportional and automatically add enough space between characters. So, only one space is needed between sentences.

    Actually, you have it precisely backwards — in the days of typewriters, with fixed-width characters, two spaces between sentences was too much space; one space is too little, but is often closer to the right spacing than two, so it might have been better to use just the one; human typesetters reading your typed copy could do the right thing either way. With computers able to do proper typesetting, one space is neither enough space nor sufficient information to let the computer determine where extra space should be added without ambiguity (until the advent of human-level AI linguistic software, anyway). Therefore double-spacing using a computer is considerably more necessary if you want half way decent looking output.

  • Miguel de Luis

    I don’t know elsewhere, but when I worked in a law office in Spain, lawyers followed a quite rigid format, to make sure you’ll have no fuss in court and you’d look professional to clients.

  • TeresaE

    Lauri stated, “It is mostly older people who learned to type on typewriters who have had a hard time making the change. I am actually surprised that this still exists. It is just so much easier to use one space…”

    Hey, I resemble that remark.

    I was taught to double space, yes it was back in the “dark ages” or the eighties as I like to call them.

    For a proofreaders eyes, the double space was invaluable.

    And reading what passes for many news stories on the web (from reputable sources), it is obvious that today’s crop needs all the help they can get.

    Bring back the double space. With the find and replace feature in nearly all software, it is a one second command to fix.

  • mikkiec

    @Annalaise — Your comment is referring to extra returns creating unwanted space between paragraphs (leading). However, this article is about extra spaces between sentences. You’re correct in saying that a “search and replace” is a quick fix for either situation — I use that trick all the time.

  • PreciseEdit

    Oh, no! Not again.

    One space. Most fonts will automatically adjust the width of the space.

    We also use find-and-replace to remove extra spaces. Often, we have to do it multiple times. For example, we have a client who often uses 3 spaces after a period. The first time will change 3 spaces to 2 spaces. The second time will change 2 spaces to 1 space.

    Before we do this, though, we make sure first-line indents for paragraphs are converted to tab spacing or automatic indenting. If a client has used spaces to indent, and if we don’t perform this check first, the indent will be left with only one space.

  • Peter

    Most fonts will automatically adjust the width of the space.

    Nonsense. Different fonts have different-width spaces, but whatever space width they have, that’s what they have; it doesn’t change (unless it has some intercharacter kerning between certain characters and spaces, which is highly unlikely)

    We also use find-and-replace to remove extra spaces. Often, we have to do it multiple times. For example, we have a client who often uses 3 spaces after a period. The first time will change 3 spaces to 2 spaces. The second time will change 2 spaces to 1 space.

    Why don’t you just change any-number-of-spaces to one space? (Or, better yet, write to whoever wrote your word processor asking why it doesn’t treat any-number-of-spaces as one space to begin with, if it insists on French-spacing everything….or better yet, use a proper typesetter that doesn’t French-space–i.e., TeX)

    Before we do this, though, we make sure first-line indents for paragraphs are converted to tab spacing or automatic indenting. If a client has used spaces to indent, and if we don’t perform this check first, the indent will be left with only one space.

    You should take that out completely; surely your word processor can recognize paragraph breaks well enough to DTRT!

  • Ken

    Hi,
    Just stumbled on this site and got caught up in this thread.

    The comment from “bad tim” caught my eye. While he is quite correct to point out that Americans have the right to use their own (incorrect) or any other version of english, the rebellion did not give America the right to impose their version on anyone.

    Personally I would prefer to use Welsh which as everyone knows is The Language of Heaven.

  • Nellie M.

    To Sarah & Debbie:

    Sarah is correct. Periods go inside the quotations, but question marks don’t. Unless the person speaking is asking a question.

    And I always double-space at the end of my sentences; I don’t think I could stop if I wanted to. It’s just by habit from what I was taught in, like, kindergarten.

  • roylee

    The double space thing is leftover from typewriters; however, business teachers, now often called technology teachers or vocational teachers are still teaching double-space. As an English teacher, I have to change what students have been taught WRONG. Twenty years into the IT age and NC’s State Dept of Instruction (Vocational) refuses to change. They have incorporated double-space into curriculum objectives, meaning it must be taught (and will be tested on their revered VoCats End-of Course exam). Pure ignorance (not to mention the general uselessness of VoCats instructors)!

  • David

    In the very first post, Susan misspelled judgment. Also, all modern word processing programs only require ONE SPACE after punctuation. If you double space you look like an old geezer beeping a telegraph to Abraham Lincoln.

  • Peter

    Also, all modern word processing programs only require ONE SPACE after punctuation.

    As far as I know, all modern word processing programs let you type as many spaces as you like. If you type ten spaces between sentences, it’ll print big wide spaces. This is, of course, utterly stupid. The sensible thing to do would be to recognize the ends of sentences and use an appropriate amount of space — it wouldn’t care how many spaces you typed; if you typed two or ten or a thousand, it would still use the same amount of sentence-ending space.

    However, in order to recognize the end of a sentence, the software would require more than one space (because full stops sometimes occur mid-sentence, in abbreviations, etc.; unaided determination of end-of-sentence would require human-level language processing ability, for perfect accuracy), so that futuristic word processor I’m describing would not do the right thing if you only typed one space (except in special cases where sentence-ending space is the same as inter-word space (“French spacing”) — but even then, it would lose in the line-breaking algorithm: end of sentence is a better break point than arbitrary inter-word space)

    Upshot of which: if you want to have a hope in Hades of producing good-looking output (which no modern word processor is even close to being capable of), you must double-space!

  • alysha

    Did everyone notice, that whether you used one or two spaces after your end punctuation, there was only one space once it was added to the blog post? Funny thing, the computer will make that choice for you, no matter your opinion or habits.

  • C.Dill

    I’m of the opinion that two spaces should be used between sentences. And here are my reasons:

    1) Sentences are separate thoughts and should have a visible divider between them, different from words and paragraphs. Words have a single space for a divider; paragraphs have a blank line for a divider. Even chapters have a divider, a new page. Should not sentences have their own separate divider?

    2) Reading should flow, but the phrases (or sentences) should stand apart, not run together. As mentioned above, scanning is difficult with single spaced sentences. In my opinion, sentences with punctuation in the middle would flow better with a double space at the end of the sentence, regardless of fixed-width or proportional spacing. Are there some here who believe the flow is better without sentence separation?

    3) Sentence parsing would not require A.I. as all sentences would have a different separator from the internal punctuation. HTML is partly to blame with its auto white space removal. Even so, I believe laziness is probably high on the list of reasons for this change; at least next to the space savings in news print.

    This is all my opinion, and yes, I am old school and have used two spaces between sentences since my day one. I guess you could say I have a hard time making the change…or it could be that my eyes are getting old enough that sentence separation is clearer with two spaces.

    I agree with the above poster that multiple spaces are not to be used for formating, e.g. centering text, etc., Learn and use tabs.

    language and style will continue to change, although, not necessarily for the better. i keep expecting sentence case to disappear one day, lol. now is that for the better, or a result of laziness? does it make this paragraph easier to read? and i have saved some space too!

  • Maeve

    C.Dill,
    MaybewewillreturntotheRomanconventionofnospacesbetweenwords!

  • Malko

    What’s with all this talk of “old people”? I’m 29 and double spacing is just how I was taught, and no one ever bothered to inform me that the “SHINY NEW DIGITAL FUTURE” had changed everything. I did notice that the spaces were automatically removed on most websites, but it did not occur to me to consider the Internet the arbiter of linguistic standards, since it is so often a degrader thereof.

    What if the cult of single spacing had taken half the energy spent snidely mocking those who haven’t heard, and redirected that toward actually spreading the word?! Particularly to teachers?!

  • paul

    Very interesting comments.
    Only one person mentioned the most important reason for now using one space after sentences. It bears repeating.

    PatA mentioned ‘holes’ and ‘rivers.’

    Much typesetting today β€” even on home PCs β€” is often set for ‘justified’ β€” both margins smooth, as oppose to ‘ragged right’ where the line lengths fall where they may. Just looks neater.

    The computer figures out how many words can fit on a line then moves the last word even with the right margin. It then adds extra space to each word space so the words on that line are balanced across the line.

    This is where the problem pops up with the old method. If a sentence ends on that line, there are now two spaces in a row β€” both of them with extra space added.
    It just doesn’t look good. It creates the ‘holes’ mentioned by PatA. If these ugly holes get underneath other ones then you have ‘rivers’ of white winding down the page β€” not good.

    So, one space is best in this day and age.

    P.S. – I wish word processors would pick up on Apple’s iPhone and iPad word processing. Type your sentence, hit two spaces β€” it automatically creates a period plus one space β€” and makes the next letter a Cap. to start the new sentence. Too cool!

  • paul

    Another issue that crops up in modern word processors:
    You’ll notice my dashes above (option-Shift hyphen on the Mac. Not sure about PC) have spaces around them.

    The correct use of a dash is with no space, like a hyphenated word but many word processors and web blogs break the ‘dashed’ words the wrong way onto new lines β€” or don’t break them at all.

    The solution I’ve found is to use spaces β€” technically incorrect, but it ends up looking better after the processor does its thing.

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