In the following image, the top text has regular spaces around the bold word bar, whereas the bottom text includes the spaces in the bold styling:

bold spaces

I added red vertical marker lines so it's easier to see that the words don't line up perfectly. For some fonts, this doesn't seem to make a difference, however for others (like Avenir) it does matter.

Is there a general rule about which I should prefer? If I make a word bold, should I also make both the spaces around it bold?

(and if it doesn't broaden the question too much, what about italic text instead of bold text)?

  • Is your depiction from html/css? I'm pretty sure html/css gives it the same exact width for both of your markups. Basically there is no bold space in html/css that I'm aware of but I'm by no means a web designer (CC: @ZachSaucier )
    – Ryan
    Mar 4, 2016 at 16:59
  • This question isn't web-specific. I just added the HTML equivalent of the text to try to make it clear that the spaces were included in the bold styling; I'm open to better ways to clarify it.
    – Cornstalks
    Mar 4, 2016 at 17:05
  • 4
    @Cornstalks honestly I would edit and remove the markup from the question, I think it is distracting people from the point :)
    – Cai
    Mar 4, 2016 at 19:13
  • 1
    I actually don't think the HTML should have been removed. I think other markups should have been added. Or the entire question reworded. See my answer which hopefully is coherent
    – Ryan
    Mar 4, 2016 at 20:48
  • 3
    If this was asked on underlining, rather than bolding, everyone would agree on what to do ... In this case, however, you may want to consider this: what if the bold font has (significantly) wider spaces by design? A single word would still look okay, but the space in two words inside regular text would look odd - and then I'd probably replace the space with a non-bold one, and reserve the "bold" space for entire bolded sentences only.
    – Jongware
    Mar 4, 2016 at 23:26

6 Answers 6


No, the spaces should not be bold because that would be bad semantics. A word or run of words can be bolded, but spaces around a word cannot.

This is separate from any thoughts of visual design, and independent of any implementation. The semantics come from the writer. They are not up to the designer. The designer has visual design tools to do their visual design. Again, in any implementation.

In your example, the writer wrote:

foo **bar** baz

… shown here in Markdown, but it applies in any writing environment.

A writer would have no reason to bold the spaces because there is no semantic reason to bold the spaces. The bold text comes from the writers mind. They are bolding a word (or run of words) not bolding spaces.

So the HTML — example is in HTML because your example is in HTML, but this applies to any implementation — of the above Markdown is:

foo <b>bar</b> baz

… and it is after that when visual design begins.

If you for some reason wanted extra space around bolded text — and you are working in HTML as your example implies — you use CSS or JavaScript to modify the DOM, you don’t wreck the semantics of the HTML. If you are working in InDesign or Illustrator or any visual design environment, the same thing applies.

If you look at an example using actual writing it is clearer:

Danger do not eat contents of packet.

… it is the word “Danger” that has the bold emphasis. Nothing else.

  • 2
    The OP is asking about this situation in terms of visual design, so your answer about markup preference is irrelevant Mar 4, 2016 at 18:49
  • 2
    I cover visual design — you add the extra spaces if you want them via CSS rules, you do not add them in the HTML. Same as you do not add word-spacing by putting multiple non-breaking spaces in the HTML. If the question was “do I add word-spacing by putting in multiple non-breaking spaces?” the answer would be similarly structured — the HTML remains semantic, the visual design is done with CSS rules. Mar 4, 2016 at 18:51
  • 3
    Zach is correct that the markup has nothing to do with the question. The markup is just being used to illustrate what the OP means. I agree it would semantically be bad markup but that is irrelevant.
    – Cai
    Mar 4, 2016 at 19:06
  • 1
    I think maybe you are seeing the word “semantic” and thinking that is an HTML-specific term. It is not. It applies to all writing. The examples I use are done in HTML because that is the example the questioner used. But it applies to any implementation. If you are working in InDesign, you still have a manuscript from a writer, you still modify spacing with the visual design spacing tools in InDesign rather than monkeying with the semantics of the text. Mar 4, 2016 at 19:53
  • 1
    Outside of HTML or any other programming, I don't think semantics - the way you are talking about it - matters nearly as much. I often add extra paragraph breaks or spaces etc when working in print. It's not semantically correct, but it's a lot quicker and easier if you are short on time, and doesn't really affect anything.
    – Cai
    Mar 4, 2016 at 20:23

Honestly I don't think it really matters. Any difference in spacing will be negligible and not noticeable. However, this is something I normally do.

Any difference in spacing will depend on the font. If there is a difference, the font designer made a conscious decision to make that difference, so use it. A bold font is by definition wider than than its regular weight counterpart, therefore any spacing, which has probably been calculated carefully to fit the font will naturally need to be equally wider. The extra space will (in theory) increase legibility and balance of the text.

One thing to keep in mind is to be consistent. If you use a bold space on one side, use it on the other too. Not doing so could leave the text looking unbalanced. In a lot of programs if you double click to select a word, it will select the word and trailing space, so if you double click and change the font to bold you will end up with a normal space before and a bold space after.

Others have made a point about it being semantically incorrect. This is true if you are working with source code or markup that has to to be equally as correct as the visual output, but that is beside the point.

In summary — It is unlikely that anybody will ever notice either way, but if you do care - use the font as intended by its designer, use bold spaces, and use them consistently.

  • "Any difference in spacing will be negligible" - but where there is a difference, could it be enough to change other features, such as word-wrapping?
    – MrWhite
    Mar 5, 2016 at 10:38
  • 5
    “…if you do care — use the font as intended by its designer, use bold spaces” Sure, the designer chose to make the bold spaces larger — but that’s for spaces within bold text, i.e. between two words both bolded. We have no idea what spacing the designer might have chosen for spaces between one bold and one non-bold word. Mar 5, 2016 at 16:48

Actually this does matter and it's a good question. I've had experience with some devices when the blank space isn't forced as an entity with &#160; it would render content incorrectly if the space existed in something like a span tag.

For example foo bar renders as foobar when coded as:

<span class="bold">foo </span>bar

Some applications, for example InDesign, on HTML and CSS export it as:

<span class="bold">This is Friday</span>

Overall, this can be up to the designer but it should be adopted in the workflow for parity. I would encourage you test how it will be treated on the finish product since it can play a factor in your development. So to answer your question, when I develop using HTML I do not include ending or beginning spaces inside my span tags since I've had experience with them being ignored by the rendering engine from a few devices.

If you choose to include spacing at the end or the beginning inside of your tags I would encourage you to code as such:

<span class="bold">foo&#160;</span>bar

From a developmental side, you should take into consideration parsing behavior and usability. For instance, if you develop a dictionary and plan to parse out certain elements that could be incorporated a particular section if you include beginning and ending spacing in something like span tags or in an element it could have drastic results on the ending.

After downvote

You can downvote if you think it was appropriate but the fact still remains that this can't be cited as a preference. Several devices on the market ignore how spacing is performed, and the purpose of my answer was to mention that the avenue of which the content would be viewed should be a factor in the decision and how it is created. Personally, when I develop content, I take into consideration how it's viewed in an app, printed, or on a site, and such the OP should consider that as well.

After I'm told this isn't for web it still comes down to the medium in which going to produce an issue. If not then do it anyway but adopt parity. If it is, then do it in a way that it comes out correctly.

  • 1
    Do I at least get an explanation on why the downvote?
    – user9447
    Mar 4, 2016 at 19:52
  • I would assume it's from focusing on the implementation side Mar 4, 2016 at 19:54
  • 1
    The implantation side should always be a factor in the ending product because it can depict on how it is developed.
    – user9447
    Mar 4, 2016 at 19:55
  • 1
    Agreed! Though I don't think it's the focus of this question Mar 4, 2016 at 19:56
  • 1
    If there is a difference in spacing between regular and bold that is because the font designer consciously made a decision to make that difference, so use that. If you can't because you need to think about markup semantics of technical limitations, thats a separate issue. Important issue, but a different one.
    – Cai
    Mar 4, 2016 at 20:19

This is up to the designer, but ultimately of very little importance in most cases.

In terms of design, it makes very little difference whether the spaces leading or trailing bold (or italic) sections are bold or not. The only effect it has is the spacing between words (I believe the design terminology is still letter spacing but I like to call it word spacing). The amount of space affects the "frequency" (see this article) of the print. However, in most cases, this difference caused only in the space leading or trailing bold or italic sections is so negligible that it can safely be ignored.

Whether or not a bold space takes up more room than a non-bold space is dependent on the font being used. Some fonts make them all the same size, others make bold spaces a little wider. You'll have to test to see what the font you're using does (if you care).

The only case I can think there it really might matter is in the case of really large font sizes, such as those in headings. In this case the amount of difference can be more significant due to the larger scale. However, with large texts like these the designers should look over it anyway and can make adjustments as needed.

I recommend going with whatever is easier but most importantly stay consistent. Tend towards adding more space (including them in the bold).

With that being said, if you are using some markup language like HTML it is more semantically proper to add this additional room leading or trailing a bold section using a styling language like CSS instead of including the space inside of the tag that is made bold.

  • If somebody gave me HTML with bolded spaces around every run of bold text, I would consider that a bug and make them fix it. Mar 4, 2016 at 18:37
  • 2
    @SimonWhite The question is about visual design, not markup Mar 4, 2016 at 18:50
  • You don’t do visual design in HTML. That is what CSS is for. The question includes markup examples that are examples of poor markup. Mar 4, 2016 at 18:58
  • 2
    @SimonWhite He is not asking about HTML nor CSS. He is asking about bolding spaces in terms of design which is the purpose of this site Mar 4, 2016 at 18:59
  • His implementation example is in HTML. That is how HTML got introduced. If the example was in Illustrator, we could talk in those terms. However, the answer is still the same: you don’t bold spaces because there is no such semantic thing in writing as a bold space. Writers do not write them. If you want to modify word spacing — in any implementation — you don’t go through the text and add extra spaces between each word, you use your visual design tools to increase the word spacing. Same goes for spacing around bold text, whether HTML, InDesign, Illustrator, or any implementation. Mar 4, 2016 at 19:38

Alright, I think I understand now and this is an interesting though complicated question which is why the answers are all over the place. Hopefully in my infinite wisdom (read: sleep deprived mind) I can clarify

Markup, HTML, LaTeX --- these do matter but now how you're currently thinking about them.

For example we'd have, like you used in your initial example:

  • HTML: The <b>cat</b> died last night!
  • Markup: The **cat** died last night!
  • BBCode: The [b]cat[/b] died last night!

Or you could have:

  • HTML: The<b> cat </b> died last night!
  • Markup: The** cat **died last night!
  • BBCode: The[b] cat [/b]died last night!

Now you say you're not asking about HTML just design. But that's where this is a bit confusing so I'll try to explain. Bold is a function of semantics (like Simon is trying to explain as well). No matter what system you're using something must tell it to be bold.

What you really want to ask: Should the space be increased when using a stronger font?

So, Should the space be increased when using a thicker font?

That's up to the designer. Expand a bunch of letters in an application of your choosing and arrange them however you see fit. There's no strict rule on this.

See there are no bold spaces because there are no space characters at all here, there are just letters tossed on a page:

enter image description here

enter image description here

A little closer, a little further, the same... that's all up to the designer.


The width of each glyph (including the space) is defined by the font designer inside the typeface. In Avenir's case, the designer chose to increase the width of the space to preserve the relative spacing between two words when the weight increases, but the designer almost certainly did not design the font with mixed weights in one sentence in mind.

So therefore there's no right answer; the space is the width it is to look right between words of the same font weight. You'll have to use your own judgement about what to do in your specific case because the typographer didn't do it for you. The only thing that you definitely should do is use bold spaces between bold words.

It may be appropriate to imagine using two totally different typefaces, each with very different spacing; you can tell there that there's not really any clear right answer about which font's metrics to use between the two words.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.