February 7th, 2012 / 1:20 pm

Whenever I see people talk about how they hate two spaces after a period, I kind of wonder what the big deal is because with Find/Replace it takes less than 15 seconds to fix in Word or InDesign. Over at Dark Sky, Gabe Durham walks us through this complicated procedure.


  1. Helen

      People who make grammar into a moral issue in general – unless it’s flagrant use of text-speak in a professional capacity (then, well, urgh) – annoy me. It is often bagged with a kind of classist, small-c conservative attitude (in the UK anyway).  Often, also, people forget that some of us struggle to get our language in order, whether we are coming to English as a second language or whether we have learning disabilities. It’s always that we are being ‘lazy’. 

  2. M. Kitchell

      will someone explain to me why I was taught in my jr. high typing classes that two spaces were needed after a period? i know it’s a remnant of type-writer days, but it’s not like we were using type-writers when i took typing classes (97-98 I guess?). it has honestly fucked me up for life and I just automatically type two spaces after both periods and colons because that’s what i learned when i learned to type. since everyone in the small-press publishing industry became all ‘up in arms’ about it i have started like having to consciously correct myself and it’s SO HARD.

  3. A D Jameson

      After teaching writing for as while, though, I have to say that, IN GENERAL, the students who tend to be sloppy with formatting/grammar tend to be sloppy with other things as well.

      It isn’t always true, but it is true more often than not. Which makes sense: if you’re not paying much attention in general, then grammar and formatting will be among the things you’re not paying attention to.

  4. Jimmy Chen

      ‘i need some space,’ she said after her period. 

  5. Michael J Seidlinger

      This line is beautiful. 

  6. deadgod

      Mike Meginnis talked about his irritation with double-spacing here:  http://htmlgiant.com/behind-the-scenes/a-guide-for-those-who-would-be-typeset/ .

      I think the reason typesetters (and publishers) [or: publishers (and typesetters)] decided collectively on single spacing at every place where there is between-character spacing is to save paper (= money).

      The reason I double-space after full stops (of various kinds) and colons is to differentiate between stops–that is, between a syntactic ‘full’ stop and the less ‘full’ (as it were) and often unheard stop between words within a syntactic unit.

      –and that is a rational reason for not “correct[ing]” the pattern.

      –and if that fucking cloud doesn’t quit looking like a house made out of oreo creme, I’m going to take some serious fucking action.

  7. deadgod

      “I need more space,” she said after her period.

      “Or I’ll become commatose.”

  8. Matthew Simmons

      You were taught typing on a computer, but you were taught typing by someone who was taught on a typewriter.

  9. Brian M

      I’m curious. I know ‘online’ and ‘lit’ and ‘blogs’ go by the the NO DOUBLE SPACES between sentences standard. But in colleges and ‘professional’ letters is the double spaces still the norm? If a person turned in a college paper with single spaces between sentences, would it be accepted or marked down because? Thanks to anyone who takes the time to answer this :-)

  10. Roxane

      I personally don’t give a damn about the two space thing as an editor, writer, or teacher. The last thing I’m looking for when I grade is two spaces after a period. That has no relevance to whether or not a story, essay, or paper is any good. Every teacher, of course, has different grading criteria but I don’t know many who would mark down a paper for this two space nonsense. 

  11. deadgod

      To be fair, typography isn’t a grammatical set of rules/decisions.  To be more fair, typography (and handwritten patterning) is ‘grammatical’ in the sense that it’s a part of shepherding meaning.  (A question mark, for example, indicates a change in (spoken) intonation and, of course, a different meaning (from an exclamation mark or period).)

      I think Adam is right; clarity of expression is inextricably entwined with clarity of thought and of effective feeling.

      (It should be kept in mind that unclarity is sometimes not on the page, but rather, in the comprehension of the reader.  The transmitter can only reasonably go, what, 30 to 70 % of the way to the receiver, not 99% + training wheels.)

      The thing about dogmatism — and I’m a dogmatist when it comes to double-spacing after full stops — is that one be equally dogmatic with oneself about reasonable (and not self-contradictory or futile) imposition of one’s dogmas on others.

  12. ClaudiaPutnam

      It’s not a big deal to fix, but it does say something about your level of professionalism when you submit it the wrong way, no? It’s been the professional standard to single-space after a period for at least 15 years. It’s also no big deal to change single quotes to double, as per Brian M’s boo-boo, above, but it doesn’t stop you from looking like you don’t understand your own language. I wouldn’t read past the cover letter. 

  13. ClaudiaPutnam

      (if for some reason “online” and “lit” even need quotes, which they don’t)

  14. Anonymous

      Isn’t it a stylistic preference in APA, but not in MLA? 

      As an English undergrad, I had professors that always graded w/ every MLA fine point in mind — but I also had professors who really didn’t read any of the papers they were grading. 

  15. Roxane

      But it’s not the wrong way. What does two spaces after a sentence have to do with the quality of writing? Context matters, certainly, but I’m not reading submissions to see how well someone can use Microsoft Word.

  16. Roxane

      I am not familiar with APA and in most of the writing I teach, MLA guidelines are not applicable. I also confess that while I do discuss style guides and their merits in composition or professional/technical communication classes, I don’t evaluate student work based on style guides. This is a growing interest of mine, challenging these arbitrary style standards. 

  17. Helen

      I see both your first two points and find them very interesting. I’d always thought the latter to be true, that the treatment of the text on the page – whether it be in terms of spacing or margins or possibly less convincingly spacing of lettering (I mean the kind you can select e.g. 1.5, double spacing) did have a strong effect on as you say so well, ‘shepherding’ the text. 

      However, I am going to disagree with your assertion that ‘clarity of expression is inextricably entwined with clarity of thought and of effective feeling’. 

      How would you place ellipses, deliberate grammar-rule breakage, cut-up texts that muddle meaning for a particular purpose?

      Also, as a writer with mild dyslexia (who sometimes chooses not to be ‘out’ about this, due to encounters with disdain in the past), I do find it ‘ableist’ to suggest that because a writer finds it hard to write the words in the right way (write way, rite waf, rihgt was, as it sometimes comes out for me) that their mind is any the less capable in clarity of thought (other than the thought of spelling something correctly). 

  18. Lincoln Michel

      No, it is not the norm. 

  19. Sugar Bear

      I eat my nerds one at a time. Unless they’re on a rope. Then I don’t eat them at all.

  20. Lincoln Michel

      Well it IS the wrong way to format something for most professional purposes. You can say, what does it matter if it doesn’t affect the quality of the writing / resume / professional letter / whatever, but you could say the same thing about any formatting, no? 

      I doubt many lit mag editors are going to judge a story based on this though. 

  21. Roxane

      Frankly, I just don’t see it that much and 7/10 times I wouldn’t notice it. Maybe my eyesight sucks.

  22. Shannon

      I’ve been wondering about that for years. I learned two spaces after a period in both English classes and in office settings and had no idea for a long time that it was such a big issue. For people who weren’t in school when this became such a thing, we had no idea until it became a Thing. 

  23. Michael J. Martin

      Changing single quotes to double quotes is actually hard as shit. Imagine how many single quotes are in a document… how many contracted words? My goodness. I couldn’t do that unless I could not do that.

  24. Anonymous

      A high school English teacher was very surprised I’d never heard of the two space thing and said I’d been supposed to do it like that all along (YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN A LIE) so I did it for that class, skeptical, and switched back, and no one mentioned it again for years. So I was vindicated, maybe, but typewriters are so nice-looking in their glass cases, and when your chain smoker friend lets you try a few words on his vintage typewriter, the clacks are as satisfying as everyone says they are. Maybe we should continue to listen to them for secrets. We still use ASDF configuration, invented to slow typists down so the machines don’t jam up.

  25. deadgod

      Well, entwinement doesn’t – and shouldn’t – connote ‘identity’ nor, especially, ‘priority’.  That is, asserting that two things are “entwined” doesn’t indicate that they’re the same thing or that one causes or dominates the other. 

      Clear thought is unintelligible to anyone else except by virtue of its expression, no?  –and likewise with muddled, ambivalent, or underinformed thought.

      –so, for example “deliberate grammar-rule breakage”:  the “thought” that’s communicated is gotten across exactly by means of the intelligibility of both the “rule” and its “breakage”–in other words, the fact that the “breakage” isn’t simply an error is part of what’s understood about it.

      In the case of a perceptual (and eye-to-brain-to-hand, as it were) different ability–one that doesn’t impinge (except perhaps creatively) on the differently-abled person’s intellect–, my understanding is that the process difference on the part of the differently-abled person, through expressions which (also) communicate that difference, then generates a ‘translation’ problem for the non-differently-abled (?) reader/listener (a subset of the translation issue that characterizes all communication).

      The responsibility for less rather than more miscommunication in the case of a differently-abled person writing or talking to a non-differently-abled (?) person is shared–as it is in every communicative event.  ‘Normal’ people who reject or who act as though they reject their share of this responsibility are ignorant or cruel or some toxic combination of the two . . . which sucks, but ecce homo.

  26. Anonymous

      and the new thing is to make a moral issue out of fonts. and i think even that’s wrong b/c they aren’t fonts they’re typefaces.

  27. Ryan Call

      poor wes welker

  28. karl greenfeld

      my 8th grade typing teacher—and by the way, I fucking DOMINATED 8th grade typing. We had these cut out racing card on the wall to show where we were in terms of words per minute, I was at the far right side of the wall at, like, 88 wpm or something—he subtracted one point from your score if you didn’t double space after a period. So, it was kind of ingrained in me.
      did I mention that I RULED 8th grade typing?

  29. Sugar Bear

      Eigth grade me would have beaten eighth grade you any day of the week.

  30. Sugar Bear

      *any school day of the week

  31. Anonymous

       I’m just amazed that a dude named ‘karl’ knows how to type.  Good job, Karl!

  32. Alan Collier

      Fairness being what it is, I’ll chime in on punctuation and say that if you’re looking at grammar in terms of ‘shepherding meaning,’ then the exclamation point and the question mark are largely unnecessary in sentences that are ‘grammatically’ exclamatory or inquisitive.  

      Exclamatory and inquisitive statements require inversions that make their grammatical meaning clear before punctuation would seem to reveal tone or inflection. (This is a boring sentence. — exclamatory: “What a boring sentence this is.”  — inquisitive: Is this a boring sentence.”)

      And so it would seem that only in a case where you want to represent, for example, a declarative as an exclamation (declarative – exuberant: This is a boring sentence!   declarative – quizzical, incredulous, or just upticked at the end: This is a boring sentence?)

      To continue in fairness, though these punctuation marks do not represent the most significant transformation of sentence, nor even do they affect the nature of the sentence, they are fun and they are certainly clear.

      I don’t care about the two spaces. That’s a style issue. It ain’t grammar. But I been tryin’ ta abide by it.  In even more–in fact the most thus far–fairness, a lot of us were taught for many years to put two spaces after the punctuation. If the issue is a pet peeve, fine, but its at least not like the conflation I just made of the possessive “its” and “it is,” nor is it “then” when you mean “than.” Mistakes. Missteps. Two spaces after the punctuation is actually still being taught. An issue not so much with our writers as with our teachers.

  33. deadgod

      It’d be fairer to say that exclamations entail no grammatical “require[d] inversion”, although an interrogatively inverted sentence could be “transform[ed]” from an interrogation into an exclamation, which “transformation” would be “signifi[ed]” in writing by a peskily “necessary” exclamation point (‘Is this a boring sentence!’).

      It’d be fairer to say that the “inversion” in the declaration “What a boring sentence this is.” is that “require[d]” by the adverbial clause “What a boring sentence” [itself formed from an indirect interrogative (‘What a boring sentence is’), which entails its own “inversion” (‘reversion’?) from which the verb ‘to be’ has been elided]–which “inversion” would not occur if the verb elided from the adverbial clause formed from an indirect interrogative were not elided:  ‘What a boring sentence is is this.’ (which admits of the option of a cleaving comma:  ‘What a boring sentence is, is this.’)–, as is the “inversion” in the exclamation “What a boring sentence this is!” (“signifi[ed]” as an exclamation by that peskily “necessary” exclamation point).

      It’d be fairer to say that, without different punctuation marks, the written difference between declarations and exclamations, in the case of exclamations directly “transform[ed]” from declarations, would not be “represent[ed]” at all.

      It’d be fairer to say that the distinction between two spaces after a full stop and one space after a comma is ‘grammatical’ (as I did)–the scare quotes indicating grammar-shepherding not normally called an aspect of “represent[ing]” “grammar”, but possibly as much a conscious indicator of “grammar” as the difference in written punctuation preceding the two spacing options.  (I think it’s fair to call a written gap a ‘punctuation mark’, despite its being ‘seen’ by way of what’s not there.)

      It’s fair to say that a choice made in error is not a “conflation”.

      It’s fair to say that convention is the crux of the quarrel between prescription and description, and that ‘how one was taught’ is not an argument.

      It’d be fair to say that I hope my plodding attempts to be both clear and accurate are about 85% not taken for condescension or sarcasm.