The nuns enforced it with a ruler: two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence. I, along with many others do this instinctively. Why is this considered incorrect/improper in printed materials and on the web?


4 Answers 4


Two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence started when the typewriter replaced hand set printing presses. When type was set by hand the spacing was carefully crafted to make sentences and paragraphs easier to read. Typewriters use a monospace font that make it hard to distinguish the end of a sentence without adding the extra space.

Modern fonts are kerned so they don't need the extra space at the end of a sentence. In HTML adding the extra space requires using encoded HTML entities. You can hit the spacebar as many times as you want but you only get one space.

If you're using a monospaced font add the extra space otherwise it's just not necessary.

Monospaced examples:


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.  Proin sagittis urna
ut tellus fringilla malesuada.  Fusce rhoncus varius nisi ut interdum.  Vivamus
rutrum tempor risus aliquet rutrum.  Nunc ornare luctus cursus.  Sed lacinia
ultricies mi, eget vestibulum mauris tempus et.  Suspendisse pretium pharetra
ornare.  In porta rutrum orci at malesuada.  Maecenas nisl arcu, commodo nec
aliquet id, pulvinar non dui.  Sed ac ultricies odio.  Etiam tellus nunc,
lobortis id luctus vel, pulvinar non risus.  In sollicitudin eros nec sem
suscipit feugiat accumsan pellentesque nisl.


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Proin sagittis urna
ut tellus fringilla malesuada. Fusce rhoncus varius nisi ut interdum. Vivamus
rutrum tempor risus aliquet rutrum. Nunc ornare luctus cursus. Sed lacinia
ultricies mi, eget vestibulum mauris tempus et. Suspendisse pretium pharetra
ornare. In porta rutrum orci at malesuada. Maecenas nisl arcu, commodo nec
aliquet id, pulvinar non dui. Sed ac ultricies odio. Etiam tellus nunc, lobortis
id luctus vel, pulvinar non risus. In sollicitudin eros nec sem suscipit feugiat
accumsan pellentesque nisl.
  • 7
    One might add that this "rule" is confined to the US. It was never standard anywhere else, as far as I can discover. Two spaces after punctuation has never been standard in typeset text in any era, and in proportional spaced typefaces, a double space peppers paragraphs with big blobs of blank. ;-) Commented May 21, 2011 at 5:48
  • 4
    Also common in the UK.
    – e100
    Commented May 21, 2011 at 8:30
  • 1
    We were taught to place two spaces after a full stop in Australia, when learning on typewriters, and IIRC this is something we got from the U.K. As far as I knew this is not a particularly American phenomenon. I was of the understanding at the time that the opposite was true - that the U.S. were the first, and loudest, opponents of the two-spaces practice. Commented Aug 29, 2013 at 8:07
  • 1
    Before the invention of the typewriter, the distance between the end of a sentence and the start of the next was generally much wider than the distance between words; in justified text, the amount by which a sentence space should "stretch" could vary according to how "tight" or "loose" a line was. Mechanical typesetting equipment couldn't handle such variations, and thus cause a push toward using the same widths of spaces everywhere, but when trying to mimic the typesetting of older documents, using only one space between sentences would be anachronistic.
    – supercat
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 18:40
  • 1
    Supporting the comment by @supercat a little more: the typewriter two spaces thing is a myth, and far more complex than expected. widespacer.blogspot.dk/2014/03/…
    – scobi
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 14:01

From a newsletter I sent out to author clients a few years ago (edited to remove monospace information already covered in Chris's answer):

When people made the switch from typewriters to word processors and proportionally spaced type, the term "typing" stayed with us. It makes sense: "I'm word processing a letter" is a clumsy mouthful, so the simpler, more traditional term stuck. The problem is, when you use almost any font on a computer you aren't really typing, you are really typesetting, a very different thing.

The art of typesetting proportional fonts is handled automatically by the computer (often poorly, but that's a story for another time) as you type. The point is, what you are doing is typesetting, not typing, and nobody bothered to let you know.

That's a shame, because the result is that many things typesetters (a highly paid, highly skilled profession) take for granted have never been communicated to the present generations of computer users. Worse, the typing practices that are still taught in schools are just plain wrong, unless you are actually using a typewriter (or a font that mimics one, such as Courier).

Spaces Don't Come In Twos

Many, many computer users automatically put two spaces after every period, colon, or closing quotation mark, not realizing that the space designed into punctuation already takes into account the extra gap needed after the end of a sentence, so one space, not two, is correct. This has been standard typesetting practice for several hundred years. The Chicago Manual of Style says: "In typeset matter, one space, not two (in other words, a regular word space), follows any mark of punctuation that ends a sentence…" without mentioning the reason. Typeset matter, as a glance at any magazine or book will tell you, is always proportional-spaced. Like I said: you're typesetting, but nobody bothered to tell you.

In typewritten text, two spaces help to make the text more readable by providing a visual clue to the beginning of a new sentence. In typeset text, two spaces not only don't improve readability, they also create random blobs of white space that make the text look subtly but definitely wrong, (especially when you know the difference). Here is some text set with two spaces between sentences, then with one. The typeface is Tunga Regular.

Text samples

[Added later] All that said, it dawned on me after I wrote the above that there is a much more fundamental reason why one doesn't use two spaces after punctuation, and is the reason for the single-space rule. Since before there was such a thing as movable type, scribes and typographers have strived to achieve even typographic color on the page. If you're not into type, you probably don't think of plain black type as having "color," but the term refers to the relative grayness or blackness of a page or a paragraph. Even color (pick up any good book, open to a text-intensive page, and defocus your eyes a bit) is one sign of good typography. Uneven color is distracting and detracts from the readability of text, and makes the page less inviting to read (another goal of typography).

The "one space" rule is there because it maintains that evenness of color.

  • Looking at historical documents, it would appear that the problem with using two spaces after a full stop isn't that it creates too much emptiness, but rather that it creates too little to work as a proper "wide space". I'd consider the effect somewhat analogous to adding an extra point or two of leading between paragraphs, rather than adding none or adding at least half a line worth. A proper full-stop wide space or paragraph leading should create a "hole" or "gap", rather than a color variation. I consider it unfortunate that software never opted to have a double-space...
    – supercat
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 20:22
  • ...render as a "wide space" whose width relative to a normal space would be configurable, since such rendering would allow the same entered text to be rendered using both pre-Linotype and post-Linotype conventions.
    – supercat
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 20:23

The real reason to use one space, as Alan has said in an added note, is that it generally improves readability: two spaces after sentences lead to uneven blackness of the paragraph and may even lead to the existence of rivers. If nothing else, this is unsightly. And finally, we use one space because it’s convention and style manuals tell us to. Unanimously (scroll down a bit).

But let’s please bury the legend that “two spaces after the sentence were introduced by the transition to typewriters”. It’s demonstrably wrong.

Now, you may have read that article and are understandably upset about it. Any article which calls typographers liars in its title probably deserves all the ire it gets. And it claims that “two spaces isn’t wrong” and (although the article goes on to qualify and justify this), that’s wrong.

But the article correctly shows that the practice of two spaces after sentences long predates typewriters. It also shows that style manuals such as the Chicago Manual of Styles (of all things!) used to recommend the two spaces at a time.

  • The convention of referring to the area between one sentence and the next as "two spaces" is almost certainly tied to the invention of the typewriter. The convention of having a larger area between sentences than between words, however, substantially precedes the typewriter. It would be interesting if the "one-space-only" advocates could find any examples of pre-Linotype professionally-set documents which didn't use an extra-wide space between sentences. Personally, I'm saddened that computers didn't adopt the convention that two or more consecutive spaces...
    – supercat
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 18:51
  • ...within paragraph-formatted text should be regarded as a "sentence space", which could be set to be anywhere from 1.0 to 5.0 (or more) times the width of a normal space. That would allow text which was entered in normal typewriter fashion to be rendered in either "modern" or "old-style" typography.
    – supercat
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 18:53
  • 1
    @supercat Well professional typesetting systems (TeX …) do that anyway (and they can do it automatically, no need for the existence of “two or more consecutive spaces”). However, a 5-fold (or indeed everything above a 1.x-fold) increase seems excessive – once again with reference to even blackness. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 9:26
  • How does one reliably distinguish sentence-ending periods from non-sentence-ending abbreviations if they're typed identically? Importing text which was entered with the two-space-after-sentence (but not after abbreviation) convention, would seem more reliable than trying to draw inferences based upon the text. I did at least find a way of doing things in CSS, at least with non-justified text: use "white-space: pre-wrap", and adjust the width of spaces such that using multiple spaces can create proper-width gaps (e.g. make spaces half-width, and then use 2 space characters for word space...
    – supercat
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 13:26
  • 1
    @supercat “How” – In TeX, by requiring the less common case (= abbreviations ending in a dot) to have special markup, not the prevalent case (dots ending a sentence). To wit, to protect the space after an abbreviation to be expanded, it needs to be made into a protected space (denoted by ~ instead of space). Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 13:54

The nonsense of arguing about the number of fixed-font spaces at the end of sentences is amusing at best.  A digital space in true-type fonts is a fixed em width just like it is in monospace fonts.

You may notice that I use two spaces after the punctuation between sentences.  All the major style guides say the rule is a single space after a period or any other punctuation mark used at the end of a sentence.

So why do I insist on using two spaces?  A few reasons.

  1. I’m old school and learned to type on a typewriter about 60 years ago.  My instructor told us to use two spaces at the end of a sentence that was not the end of the paragraph.  Old habits die hard.
  2. I learned to typeset a few years later.  In typesetting, we learned to use different size spacing slugs based on where on a line the space was needed.  This was especially useful when setting lines that were justified on both ends where we might add copper or brass slugs to get the spacing visually pleasing.  In-between words we used a ½ pica slug called an en space.  For the end of a sentence, we used our largest space (only 1) that was a full pica in width, called an em space.  Note however, that it was twice the space between words.  You can mimic the old typesetting on a computer by reducing the font size of the spaces to half the font size of the letters (a lot of work).  Or you can maintain the old typewriting standard of two spaces at the end of the sentence.
  3. I’m very near-sighted.  So, it’s particularly difficult for me to see the difference between a comma, and a period (unless I increase the type size 400%).  The two spaces at the end of a sentence makes it easier for me to distinguish between the two types of punctuation.

There is a very easy way to convert from two spaces at the end of a sentence to one space, or vice-versa, if required.  Simply use a global change.  I do this on manuscripts I’m asked to read so I can tell whether I’m looking at a comma or a period.  For editors who request single space, I do the change on the copy of the manuscript before submission.  It's more important to provide the style requested than to insist on one way or another.

  • 2
    I have had many clients, probably between 150-200 different clients during my time. Only a single one of them required me to use double spaces after sentences in multiple items, and I "tricked" him every time by using EN spaces instead. For every other client I run a GREP replace and I intentionally remove every trace of any double spaces in every document I've ever worked on.
    – Lucian
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 18:06

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