Two Spaces Or One?

Farhad Manjoo recently wrote a piece for the on-line Slate magazine, one which was (I suspect) deliberatively provocative. That’s how you get hits on the web, after all!

The writer’s premise is that anyone who puts two spaces after a sentence rather than one is an illiterate fool. The piece garnered hundreds of comments. I liked this one, from a woman who calls herself Tracy:

This article has almost thoroughly persuaded me to use double spaces after periods, just for the sheer pleasure of annoying the author and type professionals.

The only reason I might not is that it occurs to me that possibly it was written purposefully to get up the hackles of its readers.

Here’s the tirade, if you would like to read it:

Why You Should Never…

I’m in the habit of using two spaces after a sentence, thus Marjoo’s article annoyed me. Several commenters pointed out that when a fixed-space font like Courier is used two spaces make text more readable, whereas when a proportional font is used one space is sufficient. Others pointed out that the single-space custom may have originated in the old print newspaper days, when every space counted (and cost money).

Other commenters pointed out that anything written for the web, such as this post, will have single spaces after a sentence, no matter what the writer typed; this is due to the way HTML works. I’m tempted to find a way around this…

Really, the issue is a tempest in a teapot; at least we don’t have strictly enforced typographical laws, and we are free to indulge ourselves with however many spaces we like!


4 comments on “Two Spaces Or One?

  1. Joan says:

    Oh pooh! I’m still trying to get used to the idea of starting a sentence with the word “but” now being approved writing. It’s like the earth has tilted on it’s axis. It certainly solves the problem of run-on sentences, but might well have a big impact on compound sentences. .
    At any rate I’m quite happy to let HTML take over my end of sentence spacing and the grammar and spell checker to do the rest. I wish I had those spell checking features on this little box I’m filling in. It would be less embarrassing. (grin)

  2. Virginia says:

    Laughing now, Joan!!! I just commented on Larry’s mountain-coal article and began a sentence with “But”. My inclination was to use ‘however’ but realized it was just too stodgy. I opted to begin with” but” for the exact reason you gave-to prevent a run- on sentence.

    I suppose I’ll continue to use two spaces after a sentence because I like a clear beginning to a new sentence. What HTML does with it is out of my hands.

  3. Darrell says:

    Joan and all grammarians! . . .
    I have decided to opt for 4 spaces at the end of sentences. But will this be acceptable to those in the know. And note the use of “but” at the beginning of the sentence too.

  4. Leslie says:

    Well I have to include 2 sentences in this comment to see what I naturally do at the end of a sentence. Hmmm… I’m an illiterate fool and happy to be one!

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