Spaces between sentences

The old typographical superstition that it’s proper to use two spaces after a sentence should be laid to rest. Virtually every major style guide recommends a single space, and most major publishers and publications comply. If you don’t believe us, take any book off the shelf or visit any editorially scrupulous website and look closely at the spacing. Chances are good you will find no double spaces between sentences.

The two-space “rule” came about thanks to the monospaced type used by mid-20th-century typewriters. Because monospaced type (i.e., type in which every character occupies the same amount of space) has a uniform appearance, the double-space between sentences broke up the text and made it easier to read.

In computerized word processing, the only widely used monospaced font is Courier. All others are designed with proper proportion between letters, and double-spacing does not necessarily make the text more readable. In fact, having a huge chunk of space between sentences can be distracting and aesthetically offputting. Plus, double spacing takes more time.

If you have a teacher who won’t give up the double-space superstition, there’s nothing you can do but go along with it for the sake of your grade. But don’t let it become a habit outside that class.

9 thoughts on “Spaces between sentences”

  1. I take exception to the comments from the person wrting the above article, apparently he/she never took proper English and punctuation in school. To make the comments/insults he/she made are ignorant. An explanation as to why one space should be used after a period with computers I can accept and understand. The points could have been made without all the sarcasm, many many teachers before them state it was proper. (Then little computer people come along and decide what has been proper for a couple centuries is now all wrong! Okey dokie!!!)
    I also take exception to the comments about the superstition crap. I sincerely doubt all the English teachers were superstitious.

    I had a conversation with my cousin not long before she died, she was an English teacher and she was adamant, regardless of any justification anyone tried to make, that there were 2 spaces after a period when using proper English … period!!

  2. I have never yet heard a single-space proponent offer any effective way to do a search/replace that finds the separation between sentences. With a single space, the period and space signaling the end of a sentence cannot be distinguished from a period and space following an abbreviation.

    • To find double spaces, search for “.[space][space]” and replace with “.{space]”

      If you want to do the other thing you can search for “.[space]” and filter out false positives, with a list of involved abreviations.

    • The single space is used in virtually every single book, magazine, and newspaper being published today, so the view that it is horrible is obviously a very minority one.

  3. The single space versus double space debate drives me bonkers. I’ve always been taught that a single space is sufficient, and I’ve seen this in every sort of publication. I’m currently working with an older mentor who insists on double spaces every time she proofreads my work. In the world of word processors, double spaces just look messy and it becomes easy to end up with one or three spaces when there are several people contributing to a single paper. The one space mentality needs to become more common.

  4. As a medical transcriptionist it is imperative to have two spaces, otherwise there are too many run-on sentences. So, although one space may work for many instances, not in the medical world does this work so well.

    • How on Earth does a grammatically correct sentence with proper punctuation become a “run-on sentence” when followed by a single space rather than a double space?

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