A Grammatical Space Probe

Disclaimer: This blog was typed using a single space between all sentences.

You wouldn’t think that the number of spaces typed after a period would ignite such an intense debate in our office, but it does. In addition, each person boasts with a distinct certainty that they’re right – think passionately charged chest beating with mild snarling.

Modern typographers tend to favor the one-space rule. Major style guides like the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style advise using a single space after a period. While the Publications Manual of American Psychological Association allows for two spaces in drafts, it still suggests one space in published work.

After some quick research, I discovered the issue became widespread with the introduction of the manual typewriter and its use of monospaced type, which dictates that every character occupy an equal amount of horizontal space. The result of monospaced type was uneven looking text and seas of white space between characters. Thus, the adoption of the two-space rule offered easier readability when typing with a manual typewriter. When electric typewriters and PCs (or Macs) debuted with proportional fonts, a modern and easier to read type, it eliminated the need for an extra space. But old habits are hard to break for some.

The readability argument is definitely debatable. And quite amusingly, people do argue over it. Just ask one of us at HMA! Aesthetics is typically the most commonly cited reason and generally the better argument. One space is much simpler and visually pleasing. Plus, it requires less work and wastes less paper (sustainable marketing, anyone?). A page congested with two spaces between each sentence looks wrong and stands out as an error to me.

Conversely, I’ve heard the exact same argument for two spaces, but who’s right and who’s wrong? And which do you prefer? One space or two?


  1. From a publishing standpoint, the double space between sentences tends to create gaps of white space that sometimes flow distractingly through paragraphs, giving these spaces the name “rivers.” In the days of hot metal type, paragraphs containing said rivers were re-composed through letterspacing to minimize or eliminate them. If the ultimate goal is to communicate printed material in the best manner possible, a single space will allow the reader (more specifically, the reader’s eyes) to maintain a less interrupted path while taking in the information, thereby improving the quality of that communication.

    The chest-beating insistence on being “right” by both sides of the issue is a moot point. Those who declare the use of two spaces is correct have no basis other than personal preference on which to base their assertions. Those who insist that the “rule” is now a single space most likely cannot articulate why the rule even exists. Now you have logical reasoning to help you refute and inform the opposing parties, so the matter should be settled, and energies can be focused on more relevant issues, such as why people continue to (incorrectly) substitute “I” for “me” because they think it makes them sound smarter, or why there is no keyboard command for an interrobang.

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