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5 reasons you should only type one space after a period.

Forget what you were taught in high school… you should never follow a period with two spaces.

by MATT STOKES | NOVEMBER 14, 2018

This is an entry in an ongoing series of examinations of writing mistakes people frequently make and tips on how to be a better writer. 

In a not-exactly-scientific poll I posted on Facebook, more than three-quarters of my respondents indicated that, when typing, they follow a period with two spaces rather than one.

These people are wrong.

Why do so many people incorrectly believe that periods should be followed with two (sometimes more) spaces? The answer probably goes back to typing practices that arose with the widespread use of the typewriter, a technology and technique that has been obsolete for decades. But this is not as simple a story as an old habit dying hard, because the old habit isn’t so old, and was never actually a rule.

Here are five reasons you should only ever type exactly one space after a period.

1. It’s the rule.

According to every major style guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, the number of spaces that should follow a period is always one. And according to typographers, one space has been the rule since a uniform system of typography first emerged in the early 20th century. Before these rules were established, there was much inconsistency in spacing, such as that on display in this New York Times article from 1903:

Highly amusing, indeed.

As you can see, sometimes a period is followed by two spaces, sometimes three, and other times somewhere in between. The one-space rule brought order to a world of chaos. Until, that is…

2. The two-space practice came about because of typewriters.

As Farhad Manjoo writes in his excellent 2011 essay on the two-space problem, “Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren’t for a quirk of history. 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.”

You might be arguing that computers are just electronic versions of typewriters, but that is not true at all. The classic typewriter used monospaced type, meaning that every character took up an equal amount of space. But the printing industry at the time did not use monospaced type (see the New York Times article above)—just like today, it used proportional type.

Because every keystroke on the typewriter created a character with equal width, the two-spaces-after-a-period convention was adopted to add more readability, to make it clearer when sentences ended. But with the advent of electronic typewriters in the 1970s, proportional spacing became the norm for all typewritten documents. Computers would later replace typewriters entirely. But the habit of using two spaces after a period lived on long after it was necessary, passed on from the typists of the ’50s and ’60s to succeeding generations.

3. Books and newspapers use only one space after a period… and have for a century.

One need only compare a typewritten document from, say, 1950, to any other printed material from that time to see the difference.

Open any book you own and see for yourself… a single, elegant space separates a period from the sentence that follows.

4. Internet publishers will, by default, remove your extra spaces anyway.

Internet platforms such as WordPress (the software used on this website) will automatically remove extra spaces after periods when you publish. Overriding this feature often requires some back-end reconfiguration. I tried putting an extra space before this sentence, for example, but WordPress wouldn’t let me.

5. Typing one space is easier… Or at least, it’s easy to fix if you can’t break the two-space habit.

Hitting the spacebar once instead of twice doubles the amount of time you spend depressing your thumb when ending sentences. Think of the time wasted!

Seriously, though, the two-space habit is not impossible to break, and I speak as somebody who spent the first 25 years of his life assuming the two-space rule was correct and following it stridently. But if you find it difficult to convert, there are workarounds available.

If you’re sophisticated enough with Microsoft Word to create a macro that automatically converts two spaces after a period to one, I encourage you to do that. But otherwise, a simple Find and Replace will do. Simply hit CTRL+H to open the “Replace” dialog box. Type a period followed by two spaces in the “Find” field, and a period followed by one space in the “Replace” field, and you’ll instantly remove all those extraneous spaces.

Is this the most important problem in the world? No. But you want to make your best impression with your writing, and you don’t want to miss out on opportunities simply because your work looks outdated. “Nothing says over 40 like two spaces after a period,” entrepreneur Jennifer Gonzalez says. That may or may not be true, but what is true is that it’s never too late to learn the rules of writing and grammar, and the one-space rule is a major one.

PS: This rule applies to all punctuation—only one space after an exclamation points and question marks.

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