Single or Double Spaces Between Sentences?

Should you put one word space between sentences or two? This question continues to be hotly debated between people in personal, professional, and educational settings, as well as in blogs, newspapers, online news resources, and even dinner parties! But for designers (or anyone setting typography as opposed to just “typing”), it should be a non-issue: double spaces between sentences does NOT have a place in professional typesetting. In fact, it is considered a serious type crime and a sure sign of an amateur. Here’s the scoop…

Double word spaces between sentences is a practice commonly believed to have evolved from the use of typewriters. Truth be known, this practice far preceded typewriters, as documented in Jim Felici’s excellent treatise on this subject. Double word spaces were frequently (albeit inconsistently) used in handset metal type settings, especially to help “force” justified type. Over time, this convention declined in commercial usage, and was replaced by single word spaces, which eventually became the accepted practice in professional typesetting – and one that has continued on to this day.

The use of double word spaces between sentences can be seen in this justified setting from 1844, excerpted from a reproduction of a Caslon Old Face specimen catalog.

B.doubleOld

This reproduction of an ad from 1885 shows both single (3rd line) and double word spaces (all that follow) being used, presumably in order to help balance the spacing in this justified setting.

C.Merg

This setting utilizing single word spaces is from a classic amongst type books, the big red Linotype Faces Specimen Book,1940. By then, single word spaces between sentences had become the accepted standard in commercial (metal) typesetting.

So how did this practice seep into contemporary usage? Along with the invention of typewriters in the 1860s came a simplified, “dumbed down” style of typing which included double word spaces between sentences – and for good reason. The typefaces used in typewriters (such as Courier) were monospaced; that is, designed so that all letters had a similar width – even the narrow letters such as the i and wide letters such as the m – so that they fit on typewriter hammers, which were all the same size. This made for very open-looking spacing, which (in all likelihood) prompted the adaptation of two word spaces between sentences to help create a more noticeable separation. 

D.hammers

The hammers of a typewriter are all the same width.

E.mono-vs-prop

Each character in a monospaced font (upper) has the same total width, requiring some glyphs to have more expanded (i) or compressed (m) designs. A proportional typeface (lower) contains glyphs of varying widths, creating a more traditional, pleasing appearance.

F.Courier

A setting in Courier with double word spacing, as was the custom when using typewriters, which employed monospaced fonts.

The 1980s ushered in the transition from typewriters to word processors and personal computers. The typewriter’s monospaced fonts were then replaced with proportional fonts, which contain characters of varying widths. These visually-balanced fonts eliminated the need for double word spaces, a practice that when used with proportional fonts, results in visual “holes” that create uneven typographic color as well as reduced readability.

Unfortunately, this now-outmoded typewriter convention leaked into the world of professional typesetting and typography. Why? The most likely explanation is that this practice was – and in some cases still is – taught in typing classes, books, and software, most of which have not been updated. Subsequently, double spaces between sentences has become an almost impossible habit to break, especially by those who were taught to do this in their formative years, and still think it is correct.

This excerpt from Typing for Beginners, by Betty Owen, 1985, uses a single word space in the proportional type used to set the instructions, and double word spaces in the monospaced typing sample below it.

J.Mavis

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, by Lawrence W. Erickson, 2004, also advocates double word spaces when typing, yet uses a single space convention in the body text which uses proportional type. I think they got it right! (BTW, Mavis Beacon is not a real person!)

This problem has become a frustrating one for designers who are supplied with digital copy from writers and contributors who don’t know that this is an outdated convention that is no longer used in professional typesetting. In some cases, company style guides have not been updated either. Subsequently, the problem of editing out this extra space falls into the hands of the designer, production artist, web programmer, and anyone responsible for inputting text. The solution? Correct it – whether you think it is your job or not ­– and if possible, provide all contributors with a set of updated guidelines.

* Let it be noted that this practice is very popular with students wanting to reach their required word or page count for assignments and papers. (And in fact, they commit many worse typographic “sins” than this!) So let’s hope that if they wind up being writers, they will amend their ways, and learn to type with today’s proper typographic conventions!

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Posted on: May 6, 2015

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

16 Comments on Single or Double Spaces Between Sentences?

  1. Why is this even open to debate? I’ve been setting type (professionally) for over 35 years, and double-spacing between sentences is a huge type crime (and a sure indicator of an amateur). Spread the word: double spaces are dead, long live the single space!

  2. Richard Koch

    May 6, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    I went through grief with this many years ago, running a design studio for SUNY Stony Brook. There was no classification in the civil service system for a typesetter, so the powers that be pounded our square peg into the round “Typist II” position. My best typesetter repeatedly failed the test, because she was trained, and our CompuGraphic system would not even allow, double spaces after periods, but the test absolutely required them. It took two years of negotiating back and forth with Albany until they finally agreed to define a subcategory of “Typist II – Typesetting”.

    • Goodness, that sounds like a painful process! My sympathies. 🙂 At least you fixed a problem for a LOT of people.

  3. stephen mason

    May 7, 2015 at 12:49 am

    I have trained my in-house journos to not double space (double carriage returns too). But the copy submitted from outside is very ordinary. Thank God for Find/Change features.

  4. Alan Gilbertson

    May 7, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Indeed. I’ve blogged on this myself, and it’s part of my guidelines to authors. Interestingly enough, this was never a thing in the UK, where I was educated (and learned to type lo, these many years ago). I only ran into it on this side of the pond. It seems to have been taught with a vengeance in the US, though, because it’s a constant in submitted MSS.

  5. Authoritative source leaving no stone unturned…Finally someone spoke

  6. Is it possible to globally correct the spacing between a trio of glyphs for the entire font? I love Adobe Caslon Pro Regular for the history-based books I produce, but the visible space is almost nonexistent between the period at the end of a sentence when it is followed by a capital “T” — example…. [. T] The space between the period and the “T” is what I’m referring to — this means I either am forced to put 2 spaces between the period and the T, which, depending on the number of characters in a justified line, can result in too large a visible space, or I have to manually kern each of them apart throughout the entire book, sometimes 600 pages of them. Is there a way to modify a letter pair, (or in this case, a set of 3 characters) just once, so that this combination behaves the way it should every time? Bembo is another font this happens with, and I finally stopped using Bembo because this issue was even worse with that font. (With Bembo, I think it must be a separate issue, as it almost looks like they didn’t finish the font hinting and pair kerning process or something.) Maybe there is a GREP search for this? Can kerning be searched and replaced?

    • Grace, you can do a GREP search for . (?=T) This is using the “positive lookahead” feature. It’s telling InDesign to find a period followed by a space only when the space is followed by a capital T. Be sure the Find Format includes Adobe Caslon Pro Regular. Then in the Change Format section of the Find/Change dialog box, apply whatever tracking amount gives you the desired the space. You could also build this into a GREP style and the effect would happen automatically, but it might slow InDesign down depending on how much text it has to constantly search for that pattern. You could use the same idea for Bembo with a different tracking value.

    • Grace, when I had the same exact problem with Gill Sans, changing the kern method from Metrics to Optical solved it gracefully. That can be part of the paragraph style (looks great for all the characters), or you can create a character style that’s Optical and use it as a GREP style just for that combination. But I found it easier and faster to just make Optical part of any paragraph style that used that font. There are other character/space/character combinations that it helps as well.

  7. Change is hard but alas, I will do my utmost to update my 1970’s typist ways! Thank you for these articles. I appreciate them especially the historical ones. Now did I correctly space my sentences?

  8. I read, printed, and commented on this article in December. I keep rereading the sentence, “In fact, it s considered a serious type crime and a sure sign of an amateur.” I really have to take offense to that. I was taught in the medieval 70’s to put two spaces after a sentence in typing classes. I took classes in the early 90’s to learn computer word-processing and was never taught to use one space. I may not be a professional typesetter, publisher, etc., but I do take my work very seriously always striving to “do it right”. So I really don’t appreciate being labeled “an amateur” when I’ve followed the procedures I was taught in high school and community college! I am, however, mending my “amateur” ways.

  9. Illene: Thanks for making me feel better! Now I’m confused though. I create government forms. Should I consider that word processing or typesetting?

  10. As a matter of course, whenever I preflight a new document where I have placed copy authored in another (Word) application, I always run a find/replace command to find double-spaces and replace them with singles.
    Catches a bunch every time.

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