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Two Spaces After a Period…Never!

June 13, 2017 by Eternity
Tags: Design

If you learned how to type on a typewriter, then what you’re about to hear is going to sound strange to you: Stick to one space after a period-or any other end punctuation for that matter.

Yeah, it sounds crazy, especially after having the two space rule drummed into your head over and over again while you were young and still learning your craft. But the world has moved on from the 1880’s and it’s about time that you did too.

Before you slam your palms on the table and ask what the world is coming to, you should know that this “new” rule is actually the old rule.

In fact it’s the only rule supported by pretty much every typographic authority out there. Think: The Chicago Manual of Style, The AP Style Book, US Government Printing Office Style, Modern Language Association Style Manual, and pretty much everybody else.

Given the ever-increasing volume of complaints put forth by typesetters and editors all over the world about typists who don’t adhere to this rule, you may have heard about this before. You may have even shaken your head inwardly and offered a silent prayer for those who dared to suggest you break this sacred two spaced rule.

For what it’s worth, it’s not your fault. The history of spacing within type has always been fraught with confusion and late catch ups.

According to James Felici, author of The Complete Manual of Typography, the early history of type is one lacking a generally accepted standard for spacing. Centuries ago, some typesetters would end sentences with single spaces, while others would insert double spaces. The more outlandish would go for even 3 or 4 spaces at the end of sentences.

Inconsistency ravaged the land of type and the people awaited a hero!

Okay it was not nearly as interesting as that, but the truth remains that inconsistency reigned in pretty much every facet of the written word including, spelling, punctuation, character design, and ways of adding emphasis to type.

But as time progressed and typesetting became more widespread, practitioners started adopting best practices and that is how the single space following a sentence came to be accepted as the standard on the old continent of Europe around the beginning of the 20th Century.

If at this point you’re waiting to pledge allegiance thinking that the Americas followed their usual script and never adopted this convention then you are doomed to disappointment. America followed suit shortly after, and that is how it remained…

…until the typewriter came along!

For all their wonders, typewriters had one major quirk that altered the way we typed. Every character in the typeface was given the same amount of horizontal space. That means skinny characters like ‘I’ and ‘1’ received the same berth as wider characters like ‘W’ and ‘M’. This monospace typesetting made for spacey text, and thus the extra or second space that was drummed into you in your youth was needed then to differentiate sentences.

Fast forward a few decades to the present day. You may have noticed, typewriters are out and computers and smartphones are in. These use proportional space fonts which adjusts spacing according to letter size. A proportional font will pack 12 letters into the same space where monospaced fonts will fit only 9.

This makes for clear distinctions between sentences; there is no longer a need for the double space! Now that you know, you can please lean a little less on the keyboard after every sentence.

Welcome to the 21st Century!