Tuesday, November 6, 2007

One Space after Closing Punctuation. Period.

Today I get to put on my "picky English teacher" hat. To adapt a Seinfeld phrase, this is a blog entry about...nothing. Just dead air after punctuation marks.

I am always amazed when I am working on formatting issues with my students and I mention to them that they should have just one space after a period, not two. Alas, the consternation! The heavy sighs, the panicked looks, the livid faces! Generally, someone will say, "But my other English teacher said we should have TWO spaces after a period."

I'm always tempted to say, "But is your other English teacher giving you a grade for this class?"

Instead, though, I work to smooth over ruffled feathers. You see, people really don't like change, and students like change least of all. And when you start messing with their spaces after punctuation, well, you have a potential mutiny on your hands. Yes, they're right. The rule USED to be two spaces after a colon, a period, and other closing punctuation marks. However, now it's one space.

Why only one space? The publishing industry is partly to blame. In publishing, space is money, and an extra space after each closing punctuation mark is wasted space--and therefore, wasted money.

Additionally, PCs have to take part of the blame. Remember the old Courier font? Well, each letter of the Courier font takes up the same amount of space--for example, an i and an m would each take up the same amount of space--so we needed two spaces after the period in order to be better able to recognize where one sentence stopped and the next began. Now, however, we have proportional-spacing fonts, which means that each letter takes up only the amount of space it needs--an i takes up less space than an m, and therefore one space after a period is sufficient.

Bill Walsh, copy chief at The Washington Post's National Desk, discusses the spacing issue in the first chapter of his book The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English:

Are you still putting two spaces after periods, exclamation points, question marks and colons? You shouldn't be. Some places are still clinging to this typewriter convention, no doubt, but as a standard operating procedure it went out with the IBM Selectric. (3)
If you're a student, however, you're perhaps more interested in what your particular citation format handbook has to say. Here is a rundown of a few of the more commonly used citation styles:

APA Style, from the
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 15th ed. (2001), p. 290

5.11 Spacing and Punctuation
Space once after all punctuation as follows:
  • after commas, colons, and semicolons;
  • after punctuation marks at the ends of sentences;
  • after periods that separate parts of a reference citation; and
  • after the periods of the initials in personal names (e.g., J. R. Zhang).
Exception: Do not space after internal periods in abbreviations (e.g., a.m., i.e., U.S.) or around colons in ratios.

CMS Style, from The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. (2003), p. 61

2.12 Line spacing and word spacing.
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) and after colons.

Turabian Style, from A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th ed., p. 375

A.1.3 Spacing and Indentation
Put only one space, not two, following the terminal punctuation of a sentence.

MLA Style, from MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 6th ed. (2003), pp. 93-94

3.2.12 Spacing after Concluding Punctuation Marks
Publications in the United States today usually have the same spacing after a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point as between words on the same line. Since word processors make available the same fonts used by typesetters for printed works, many writers, influenced by the look of typeset publications, now leave only one space after a concluding punctuation mark. In addition, most publisher's guidelines for preparing a manuscript on disk ask professional authors to type only the spaces that are to appear in print. [. . . ] [I]nternal punctuation marks, such as a colon, a comma, and a semicolon, should always be followed by one space.

I deal with MLA format last because although the other formats require one space after closing punctuation, MLA is a little, well, forgiving:

As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor requests that you do otherwise. (94)

And I say, come now, MLA! What gives?

I suspect that the Modern Language Association is catering to the traditionalists who can't break the habit (or simply aren't willing to) of typing two spaces after a period; therefore, the MLA Handbook offers them a one-sentence license to forgo industry and academic standards. Is it any wonder my students complain that their other English teacher did things differently?

Bottom line: One space after closing punctuation. Period.


Fractious1 said...

Traditionalists = "old white guys"

Dizzy Ms. Lizzy said...

Students are not the *only* ones who dislike change - - neither do crabby old secretaries (or crabby old FORMER secretaries) who used TWO spaces after closing punctuation during their whole school lives and their whole careers.


Sharyl said...

YIKES! I had no idea! I'll change my ways as I send out thousands of letters a year in my job and until now, they've had two spaces after the period.

Your blog is very informative! Thanks!

Diane said...

I HAD NO IDEA! (And I just had to backspace, because by habit I hit the spacebar twice after that snetence!) This will take some getting used to when typing. If you could see my face, you would see shock with a smile of new information learned!

What came to mind immediately was when the post office announced that spacing and punctuation were no longer needed on addresses. LOL!

This was great to learn. Now, to get my right thumb to learn the new change! :-)

Lissa said...

I was taught to use two spaces, and always have. I still believe, proportional fonts or not, that it just looks better using two spaces. One space is too small a break and is still difficult to see when scanning text for breaks.

Anonymous said...

As Lissa mentioned, I think the biggest drawback to using one space is that it does not look nearly as organized - that is by far the biggest benefit of using two spaces.

Unfortunately I will have to switch to using just one since everyone at work favors the one space approach (though our work looks "sloppier" in my opinion!)

Dean Baird said...

It really is difficult for people to part with what they grew up with. I tell my students that using two spaces after a period tags them as "old."

@ those who claim that "two spaces just looks better," pick up any published book and open to any page. How, oh how, did every published book make it to press looking so bad with all those single spaces between sentences?

I am of a certain age and do a lot of writing. I survived the jump. So can you. But you have to take the first step by acknowledging reality. And buck up: it's less work!

TH said...

I must protest. The argument about proportional spacing is total nonsense. The real culprit is the publishing industry trying to maximise the number of words they can cram onto a page.

The reality is that two spaces after a period makes the text much more readable. There is nothing "old" about that.

And now that I see my comments in "preview", I see that blogspot changes my text to one space. Bloody Annoying!

Anonymous said...

This is the kind of "change" that gets instituted when a person or people who spent a lot on their education and career preparation feel the need to justify their existence and inflated salaries. THIS is the mark they are going to leave on the world? Why not spend your efforts instead on making sure students "graduating" high school can actually write in complete sentences?

Anonymous said...

I think it's possible to teach students to write complete sentences followed by only one space....

Anonymous said...

Just heard today that the new edition of APA is now requiring 2 spaces... ;)

EnglishProf said...

Mignon Fogerty, aka Grammar Girl, weighs in on this issue in a recent Grammar Girl podcast. You can read the transcript at http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/spaces-period-end-of-sentence.aspx.

Research Papers said...

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Anonymous said...

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Wood said...

Typesetters have always used one space between sentences whether it was metal type, Linotype, or photo-typesetting. Typesetters are looking at hyphenation among other things. An important thing to look at is the "color" of your type. The overall page has a color to it. If your type is set too close (either kerning or leading) your page will be dark. Part of the color can be disrupted by "rivers" or "holes." Turn your page upside-down and look at it. "Rivers" look just like they sound - rivers of white space running through the text. This happens more often with justified text than with ragged. "Holes" are similar and good example is to leave two spaces after sentences. It actually makes your eyes stop and does not make reading easier.

SiouxGeonz said...

Oh, dear... it's 2011... has MLA wised up yet? I must continue...

Alice Folkart said...

If you can't, or won't, change, go ahead and type the whole document with two spaces following end punctuation. Then, when done do a 'search and replace' on the whole document, replacing "period space space" with "period space" (using the period character and the space bar).