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.  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.  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?”

  • 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 — or don’t break them at all.

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

  • 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 — even on home PCs — is often set for ‘justified’ — 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 — 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 — 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 — it automatically creates a period plus one space — and makes the next letter a Cap. to start the new sentence. Too cool!

  • 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?!

  • Maeve

    C.Dill,
    MaybewewillreturntotheRomanconventionofnospacesbetweenwords!

  • 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!

  • 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.

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