Single space after a period at the end of a sentence

A good way to measure the generation gap.

Those people who learned to type on a typewriter had 'typing two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence ' beaten into them by frustrated old maids with licorice on their breath.

The kicking and screaming introduction of WYSIWYG (the first virtual reality) combined with word processing's in-built automatic kerning revealed just how gaping a hole those two spaces gave:

"Hey! That looks funny!"


Nowadays, just about everyone just types one space after a period at the end of a sentence, so if you find yourself chatting to a red-headed green-eyed coed on-line who double spaces after their full stops, don't be thinking you are so lucky.

Most web browsers will condense any number of spaces between sentences in the content of an HTML document into one space, making the effort of people who put two spaces after a sentence useless. Though continuing to type the two spaces won't hurt anything either, and as Ichiro2k3 comments, "It's not so much an effort anymore as it is a reflex, y'know."

Simply put, the "two space" rule is a typesetter's convention. It was developed for use with monospace fonts, so that your eye could easily pick up the start of a new sentence. With modern proportional fonts the double space is largely irrelevant. Further, modern typesetting software uses interword spacing to make the display of text more pleasing. Thus double spacing can make the layout less pleasing.

So my suggestion is: use two spaces if you're banging away on your Mom's old Underwood, but use a single space in any electronic format, unless you're deliberately using Courier for some ungodly reason.

Being an apprentice graphic designer, I think I'll take a shot at this one.

In the early days of the typewriter, every letter was the same size. It was all like this. If I type some more bla bla bla bla bla you'll begin to see (actually it's hard to see on a computer screen, but find some old typewritten text or something and look at it) that often times the spaces between letters and words line up creating what's called "rivers" running down the page. This can get distracting and cause the eye to just "skip over" bits of text. If you read a really long document, before long you would find yourself unconciously running sentences together as you missed periods.  To stop this, writers started putting two spaces after periods to "break things up".

This caught on and became the accepted standard. Then came word processors with their pretty non-monospaced fonts. You'll notice that there are no "rivers" in normal computer text, because the letters are different sizes. The eye can read them more easily. However, a lot of typers still put two spaces after periods, which tends to just look dumb with a nice font. The computer is not a typewriter. There is some evidence that this is why HTML does not allow multiple spaces. (to do that anyway, type   wherever you want a space.)

Double spaces after a sentence was the standard for using typewriters before the computer was commonplace. If you look at old typing texts, they said to add the doubled spaces. In actuality, it depends on the font style used. Some fonts were not monospaced. A monospaced font is one that has every letter taking up a specific equal amount of space. With the advent of computers, monospaced fonts have been replaced by letters that do not take up the same space. For example:

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.
Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.

Note that the upper sentence (made up of every letter in the alphabet) takes up less space than the lower sentence. This is because the upper font has letters with different spacing and the lower font is monospaced.

Therefore, you are both correct. In typing on a typewriter, use double spaces after sentences. On a computer, use a single. I'm a tech writer, and all of the contracted manuals I wrote required the new computer standard (single-spaces between sentences).

Hope this helped.

The programmer's Point of View:

Text is stored and transmitted digitally in the form of digitised numerical codes (typically 8-bit or 16-bit, the latter for unicode) interpreted graphically using a character set (a bit like a typeface, but only defining which number means which character not how that character appears on screen or in print). For this purpose new characters had to be defined in addition to the symbols of the latin alphabet and Hindu-Arabic Numerals and punctuation etc. For example the Space between words had to be considered as a character for the first time (well it may have been considered as a character in early systems of crytography).

In the old days when the typing was being done on electric typewriters, a pair of characters were incorporated into the common character sets for what happened at the end of a line, namely a Line Feed and Carriage Return. These two actions were the scrolling of the 'paper' up one line (or on a computer the movement of the cursor down one line), and the whooshy dinging bit where the part that did the writing moved to the left edge of the page (or where the cursor moves back to the start of the line). Even now to this very day these two characters CR (ASCII/ANSI 13) and LF (10) persist and many text editors still write both characters at the end of a line. Here's the thing though: text is a one dimensional information medium. There is no need for the cursor to move down a line because in reality there is no line. The 'line' is just a convention of text editing brought about because text has always been printed in lines stacked above one another, as opposed to in long one-line strips. The line is a human requirement so that people can more comfortably read the text and also a stylistic one so that the writer can control where certain paragraphs stop and new ones start. Modern concepts in information exchange define that a single break character be used. As such many text editors have dropped the Line Feed and only write a Carriage Return when you press the enter key. (Linux Unix systems went the other way and dropped the CR in favour of the LF. Read more about this sordid subject here.)

In the same way, the double space is a stylistic element to make it easier for humans to read text. Technically only a single character need be used to denote the termination of a sentence. A word processor might represent this character as a full stop and a slightly longer space. However no such characater exists, (although there are many extra space characters defined in the ever growing unicode standard) and it remains the case that people are going to continue doing this when writing for print. But from the point of view of data storage and transmission, it's wasted bytes. It's like when people who don't understand how to line up tab stops in Word (or whatever word processor they use) use thirty spaces to get the text where they want only to find (but usually accept anyway) that the line doesn't quite line up with the one above due to the proportional spacing of the obscure typeface they insist on using. A tab character takes up a single byte and the information defining where a tab stop is positioned takes up only a few more (although I'm tactfully avoiding the subject of the massive bloatiness of MS Word documents). Over the course of a document there can be a saving of quite a few bytes. (This probably sounds silly considering that we measure storage space in Gigs nowadays but I aspire to be old school (however that works).)

So I think there's a schism between hackers (in the 'does-a-lot-of-typing' sense) on this issue. There're those who see the final layout of a text as part of the artform and there're those who only believe the written content is important. The former group are more inclined to want precise control over layout and will play with different typefaces, styles (bold, italic etc) and (eek gads) perhaps even colours. The latter will shun such things as irrelevant novelties, and concentrate purely on the actual information. Of course most writers will be somewhere between the two, perhaps not caring too much about the layout but wanting to use bold emphasis and italics to affect the way the text is read. Those closer to the former group are more likely to use the double sentence spacing than others.

Also I think this is one of those rather silly issues that seems to cause irrational irritation (alliteration, yuch). Secretaries etc are irritated by the lowly IT tech guy who tells them that they're using the system of digital text representation wrong, and the techs are irritated by lowly secretaries telling them how to type because they were taught how to do it properly.

The HTML problem can be solved with careful application of the one-pixel transparent GIF method. One replaces all but the last of a string of spaces with a single <IMG> of a single transparent pixel (1x1 in size) with width set to the size of the gap (minus the last space) required. The invisible GIF should be bound to the word directly preceding it using <NOBR> and </NOBR> tags to prevent the image being wrapped to the start of the next line and seemingly indenting the text following it. This method sadly won't work on E2 though because they don't allow either the <IMG> nor <NOBR> tags. But feel free to use it in your own webpages. I do. (And I, being the knowledge on all things, am to be trusted on stuff like this. ahem.)

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