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One Mistake Many Writers Still Make

Do you see any difference between example one and example two?

1. I love dogs.  I hate cats.

2. I love dogs. I hate cats.

Anything stand out there?

If you noticed the extra space after the period in example one, then you’re right!

Many of us, way back in elementary school, or when we first learned to type, were told to put two spaces after the period. And to this day, we still write that way.

But, like many rules of grammar, something that started out for a practical reason became a mindless tradition. This article in Slate explains the origins of the “two spaces after the period” rule:

In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology—the manual typewriter—invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine’s shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do.

Oh, the poor typewriter. The traditionalists are going to be so upset. So why did we add two spaces after the period because of the typewriter?

Monospaced type gives you text that looks “loose” and uneven; there’s a lot of white space between characters and words, so it’s more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule—on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. Here’s the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we’ve all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.

I absolutely agree.

Our style guide at work calls for one space after the period. There’s no reason to add the extra space.

Whether you are writing for the web or for print, this outdated rule just adds extra white space. And, in my opinion, it make the copy look a little clunky. Occasionally, I’ll even see a writer who puts three or four spaces after the period…what? That looks horrible.

So, while many of you are probably on top of things and already knew about this, I thought I’d make a public service announcement for any writers out there who’ve missed this.

One space after the period. (Read the entire article here.)

Okay, so be honest, who’s still adding two spaces?

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43 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jason #

    Thank you! I can’t count the number of times I have had to read the papers of peers and educators alike who adhere to the two spaces rule. Remembering how awkward it felt to physically input the two spaces back in middle school when we first started typing class, I am now glad that I never really got the hang of it and was constantly being reprimanded by teachers for only using one space after periods. Take that, Intro to Computers I!

    Like

    October 3, 2012
    • MomScribe #

      I’m a copywriter and I admit, I still catch myself doing the two space rule. I always end up adjusting it to one space before I submit my work because it looks weird, but I am still a two-spacer out of habit.

      Like

      October 3, 2012
  2. I’ve never been taught the two space rule AND I don’t know anyone who follows that rule. Heck, I didn’t even know that there once WAS such a rule!

    Like

    October 3, 2012
    • Interesting. Might have to do with your age and/or where you are from. Not sure. It was pretty common teaching where I grew up!

      Like

      October 3, 2012
  3. bba #

    You know, ending a sentence with a preposition is considered “proper” mainly due to the preference and influence of John Dryden way back in the day. But you wouldn’t strand a preposition now, would you Mr. Bruce? Just curious…

    I’ll keep my antiquated extra space and non-stranded prepositions, thank you very much. Culture is nothing without a slavish adherence to obsolete tradition!

    Like

    October 3, 2012
    • “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” -Winston Churchill

      Actually, that’s an outdated rule too. But I think it depends more on the style. With a casual writing style like mine, I end sentences with prepositions all the time. If I was still writing research papers, I wouldn’t do that. That rule feels stuffy to me.

      Like

      October 3, 2012
  4. fascinating! This was a new one for me. I still use the the two space rule, but I may reconsider. Notice the use of the verb, “may.”

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  5. I don’t use two spaces, but I absolutely refuse to give up my oxford comma!

    Like

    October 3, 2012
    • I’m the same way about the Oxford Comma. AP doesn’t use it. Chicago Manual does. I side with Chicago on this one.

      Like

      October 3, 2012
    • Jason #

      Agreed!

      Like

      October 3, 2012
    • MomScribe #

      Hooray for the Oxford comma. It’s a must!

      Like

      October 3, 2012
  6. We were still taught to use it when I started on the computers in the early 90s in elementary school. It’s crazy how ingrained it’s become. I do love that on the iPhone/iPad a double space will automatically give you a period and then a single space.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  7. I definitely still find myself including two spaces. It was so ingrained in us during elementary school typing classes that it’s a hard habit to break. I’m working on it though!

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  8. This may seem odd and particularly geeky, but I remember distinctly when the rule went from two spaces to one. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was old enough to have formed a strong two-space habit. I remember struggling to make the switch and finally it became automatic. I never use two spaces now. But like Words for Worms up there, I refuse to abandon the Oxford comma.

    I’m not sure why I remember things like changes in punctuation style rules and the outfits I wore on first days of school but then forget things like how many times I’ve visited Toronto.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  9. I have never come across this in books, but when I receive correspondence with two spaces between the words, I assume that the writer/sender is not a very careful person and I don’t want to work with them.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
    • Nah. Probably just something they were taught as a kid. Old habits are hard to break.

      Like

      October 3, 2012
  10. Wow! I have never heard that the 2-space rule had been changed! Comes from being out of school for over 30 years, I guess. That makes my corrections when I do proofreading even more interesting, however – I find lots of single spaces after periods – BUT, usually only for about half of the sentences. Since no one called me to tell me about the rule change, I’ve been putting the spaces in to make the document consistent. Hurray! Now I can save myself keystrokes (except I’m sure you’ll notice that I used two spaces after every sentence here – but I have about 40 years of typing habits to break, so bear with me.)

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  11. I think I’m too old to give up the two-space rule. At a certain age it is harder to adapt. I shall try.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  12. There are other habits I may need to break first.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  13. Just about every one of my undergraduate English composition students uses two spaces because they come out of high school having been taught to do it that way. I tell them the story about why the double-space after punctuation is obsolete, but I don’t fight it too much. It’s not worth my time. I did once make a deal with an adult student who had returned to school in his 50s and thought he was “too old” to change: If he would learn to use the series comma, I would let him keep his double spaces.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
    • Yeah, it’s probably not a huge battle to fight. I think it’s more noticeable in online writing anyway.

      Like

      October 3, 2012
  14. I’ve got to be the only person who hasn’t ever heard of this rule… but I did teach myself to type, so I think I just missed all of the rules!

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  15. This is fascinating. I never put much thought into where the double space rule came from. When I was growing up, my mother demanded that I type a double space at the end of every sentence. I insisted, “Mom, they don’t teach us that in school!” (it was the 90s, after all). My mother learned to type in the 1960s, so it makes sense that she would have learned that way.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  16. I double space after punctuation. To me, it looks fine either way. I tell my students to pick one of the styles and just be consistent throughout their writings.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  17. I would like to break this habit, as the double space after the period looks wonky on my blog, especially when a sentence ends at the end of a line of text. However, I learned it freshman year of high school in typing class, and it is as ingrained as ASDF JKL;. Perhaps this will inspire me to try harder. (Not hard enough. This whole comment has a double space. Sigh.)

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  18. haven’t for years

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  19. That used to drive me completely insane when I was sub editing. Loads of writers still do it.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  20. I used to use two spaces (and still do sometimes out of habit). But my dad – a professor – informed me of the error of my ways and I avoid it now.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  21. The only time I ever used the double space was in college papers… And that was specifically to add white space, making the paper look longer while containing the same amount of words. It helped pad papers that were otherwise just shy of the page requirement.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  22. Yes, I confess I put two spaces after a period. See my fingers do it automatically! I know it does date this old crone and it know it is outdated. Still…thanks for the reminder that it is out! Cheers!

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  23. Allie #

    My teachers in high school wouldn’t accept a paper with only a single space at the end of each sentence. I was in high school in the early 80’s but I never heard of the change in the rules. I find that with some fonts (aside from Courier) it just looks ‘cleaner’ to me to see double spacing. I probably double space everything due to habit, in fact it took a conscious effort for me not to double space here.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  24. When I was taught how to type in high school we still had a bunch of old typewriters to learn on, and as a result I put two spaces at the end of each sentence. It’s a habit that I have no intention of trying to break, especially considering that most of the time you don’t really notice it unless you’re specifically looking for it. I also type at something like 70 WPM, so even with the double space it doesn’t take me long to get through anything that I’m typing.

    Like

    October 3, 2012
  25. Gosh! Finding two spaces at the end of a sentence drives me nuts! I’m the news editor at a college newspaper, and I can’t tell you how many people do this. Thanks for telling me why!

    Like

    October 4, 2012
  26. Kids are still being taught to use two spaces. I think that sucks because then it’s harder for them to change the habit when they get into college (and beyond).

    Like

    October 4, 2012
  27. Nel #

    Totally agree. (Except that I like to use Courier for my English papers because it looks like typewriter font and I think it’s cool. Drives everyone else nuts except for me and one former teacher of mine. It’s a tradition I refuse to drop because I’m stubborn like that. 🙂 )

    Like

    October 4, 2012
  28. I was taught at school that I should always use one space after a full stop. I didn’t know about the two space rule either. Kinda like it.

    Like

    October 4, 2012
  29. Reblogged this on Inkings and Inklings and commented:
    What’s so amazing, is that I was talking to my dad about this exact thing the other day – he puts two, I put one. I’m right. (I’m always right, FYI)

    Like

    October 7, 2012
  30. The 2nd out of the 3 majors I’ve had in college was a brief stint in the graphics design area, and our professor beat it into our heads to only use 1 space after a period. He even went so far as to mark off on papers for it if he caught us double spacing.

    Like

    October 7, 2012
  31. This reminds me I need to brush up on MLA style before submitting this paper I have to write. I know better than the two space rule but little things change all of the time.

    Like

    October 8, 2012
  32. I will admit, for the longest time I still used two spaces after the period. At one point it began to look silly to me. I can’t stand it anymore. I have a coworker (who’s also a writer) who still does it and I might mock him relentlessly for it. It’s always the first thing I change when editing his work.
    Katie

    Like

    October 8, 2012

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