How Many Spaces at the End of a Sentence? Microsoft Weighs In

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2020/04/24/how-many-spaces-at-the-end-of-a-sentence-microsoft-weighs-in/

Debate has raged for decades about how many spaces belong after the end of a sentence. Now Microsoft Word will be marking two spaces after a period as an error.

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Apocalypse! :scream: At least for those of us of a certain age and training. I still cringe when newspapers refer to children as kids.

As with pretty mich all things typography, LaTeX gets it right. I never use two spaces after the period when I type up something, but l always recognize that LaTeX ends up rendering spaces slightly larger after periods. There, interestingly, there’s the reverse annoyance. People who aren’t aware of the way TeX typesets, don’t realize that a period that’s not used to end a sentence (such as “i.e.” or “Fig. 1”) will cause the space to become overly large. You can use ~ or “backslash,” to prevent that, but some, either for lack of knowledge or for laziness, don’t do it which then results in ugly spaces. Pet peeve of mine. Especially when I see it in esteemed journals.

For those who find the subject of interest, here’s a wonderful article (from 2011) documenting the history of sentence-spacing in typography.

Heraclitean River: Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history)

And Microsoft should read the article’s conclusion:

Yeah, typography is an art. Complaining about the way people space their sentences in their own documents is being an ass.

Microsoft is 100% correct here. Steve Jobs understood how critical proportional type on a personal computer would be not just to graphic arts businesses, but to any kind of personal or business communications. He emphasized this many times throughout the decades, including in the brilliant and moving commencement speech he made at Stanford before his death:

"Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do."

On other occasions Steve also acknowledged acquiring a Bauhaus esthetic during his time at Reed, which certainly engraved “form follows function” in proportionally spaced Helvetica into his brain. He was very well aware that the letter m takes up a multiple amount of horozontal space than the letter I, and that in monospaced type letters line up in columns. He was also aware that monospaced type takes up an awful lot more room on a page than proportional type. He understood that monospaced type slows reading down and is more likely to tire readers a lot more quickly, and that it will take up a lot more space. All these have an affect on comprehension, especially in long form reading.

If you have any books printed before 1984 nearby please take a look at them. And do a search for reproductions of beautiful ancient calligraphic manuscripts like “The Book Of Kells.” You’ll see they all contain proportional letters and the calligraphy does not have double spacing between sentences. Even Gutenberg designed and used only proportional fonts. It’s why “1984 would not be like 1984.”

Double spacing between sentences creates a disturbing interruption. It gets even more disturbing if you have quotation marks, question marks, etc.

P.S. If I wasn’t an OK Boomer myself I would have started this rant about how only OK Boomers don’t understand why proportional type makes two spaces between sentences unnecessary.

I’ll forever be a Double Spacer! _ _ I find it more readable.

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In Japan, there is an argument whether you should insert a space character between an English word and a Japanese word, and between a number and a Japanese character.

(There is absolutely no need of any space character at all, in a pure Japanese text.)

Here is an example. You can see the following at the top of TidBITS-Japanese Issue #1510 (I translated the top blurb) in jp.tidbits.com/TidBITS-jp-1510.html

新型 iPhone SE が欲しくてたまらない人に良いニュースだが、Apple は先週第2世代の iPhone SE を最新のプロセッサを搭載して $399 という価格で発表した。

As you see, there are space characters on both sides of alphabetical words, and on both sides of “$399.” However, some people insist that you must omit those space characters:

新型iPhone SEが欲しくてたまらない人に良いニュースだが、Appleは先週第2世代のiPhone SEを最新のプロセッサを搭載して$399という価格で発表した。

(Of course the space between “iPhone” and “SE” is needed, but there shouldn’t be a space between “399” and “という”, they say.

Perhaps someday they insist the same thing in the English sentence, too, and say “$399 price” is wrong and “$399price” is right: “a modern processor and a$399price.”

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I know I date myself as one being taught to double space. A few years ago I got into quite the argument trying to preserve the sanctity of the double space. Then I began researching style sheets used by major news/press agencies and publishers. They shared that neither is wrong or right. They stressed consistency. And, if you write for them, you must adhere to their style sheet. As of 2020, 90% or more have formally gone to the single space after a period but still use a double space after a colon (:).

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I learned to type way back as a freshman in high school–when the had chalkboards and those tall, upright Remington typewriters that weren’t even electrified nor did they have the letters marked on key caps (to force touch typing rather than hunt-and-peck). We were taught to use two spaces after a period. We were told it made the sentence break more readable, especially for smaller elite type (font as it were). Pica type, not so much.

I adapted to word processing early and easily and, for years now, only put one space after the period. Word processors can (and do) adjust the spacing of letters and, depending on the font, make the text more readable (unless it is a monospaced font like Courier or Andale Mono). Two spaces after a period looks odd to me and one space after a period is so ingrained that I never think about it. Until Adam reminds me.

One space for me. And, what does your left thumb do when touch typing? Do you hit the space bar with the right thumb? Or vice versa?

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You’re so right Adam. My typographic bible is Matthew Butterick’s Practical Typography. Here’s what he has to say about sentence spacing:

https://practicaltypography.com/one-space-between-sentences.html

If you haven’t come across Practical Typography I thoroughly recommend it. The style is very authoritarian, but very comprehensive.

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Why does Japanese need no spaces?

You asked: “Why does Japanese need no spaces?”
The answer: Because the Japanese language has tons of characters, you can distinguish words easily, without a need of breaking words by spaces. The English language has only 26 characters, so you need spaces, without which you couldn’t distinguish words.

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A number of languages, ancient and modern, don’t use spaces.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scriptio_continua

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For the curious who don’t wish to make type design the sinkhole of their lives, I think Robin Williams’s classic The Mac is not a Typewriter pairs superbly with Steve Jobs’s Stanford commencement address.

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But, an example of digital evolution, wrong on SO many levels:

You can get a Kindle copy of Robin’s classic at amazon.com

You cannot find The Mac is not a Typewriter at the Apple Books store.

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I highly recommend:

What We See When We Read, by Peter Mendelsund
Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works by Erik Spiekermann

Neither of these books is a “how to” or “what you should do.” They both are focused on how typographic choices affect and color what prople think and feel. Robert Bringhurst, a poet, typographer, designer and artist, is more focused on "how to, etc. “The Elements Of Typographic Style” is heavy on good practices and advice, analysis and examples, as well as on type evolution and history.

Anything by Ellen Lupton for more of a how to, especially Thinking With Type; the newest edition emphasizes typography for online communications. A Book Apart is all about online typography and page design. Lupton is the graphic design curator for the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Institute.

Robin Williams’ books are also excellent, and they are strictly how to, and "The Mac Is Not A Typewriter is outstanding and was the first and best practical how to for type basics back in the “1984” era. She did a follow ups, and books about fonts, Illustrator, etc., also wrote an early book on design and typography for the web. And she was strictly, and very vocally, a “one space between sentences” advocate.

One more thing…I find that any publication that is visually oriented, especially typographically oriented, will not work well in Kindle or any other ebook reader. The systems render typography really badly, and much more often than not, do not use, or even allow for, the fonts used in the original publication. And the layouts will be rendered drastically different.

As i said, “wrong on SO many levels.”

But, your response tarnishes the PDF and mobi(?) versions of print publications with the same brush. Was that your intent?

Is Peachpit Press defunct?

I responded to a suggestion about a Kindle versions of books focused on typography and page design and loaded with examples of precision typography in different sizes and a wide variety of fonts and precisely weighted and styled type, and well as illustrations. To be effective, examples need to be rendered perfectly on the page size the author/designer designated. I assumed people who use Kindles or other eReader formats and other eReaders know from experience that they do not render typography or page sizes precisely, or even anything resembling the format of a printed or a web page.

PDF stands for “Portable Document Format,” and is not a native eReader format. An uneditable PDF book will work just fine in a web browser, or even better, in an Acrobat Reader. My recommendation was to get a book about typography and page or document design in a format that will render it correctly.

Thank you, Microsoft! Next up: get folks to stop underlining on the computer.

@tidbits17, thanks for that link. I also noticed reference to The Chicago Manual of Style, which is what got me through years of typing (both with a typewriter and then on my Macintosh) college papers for several folks.

@jsrnephdoc, I practically wore out all those books by Robin Williams books, and I may still have those books tucked in a box here.

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