Do You Need Two Spaces After a Period?

Do you need two spaces after a period? A can of worms, I’ll agree, but I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to the Chicago Manual of Style. Also, I’ve worked with editors and publishers out there in the writing world, and guess what? They prefer one space. Make their life easier and use one space if you can.

Here’s why:

From the Chicago Manual of Style in answer to a question about one or two spaces after a period:

The view at CMOS is that there is no reason for two spaces after a period in published work. Some people, however—my colleagues included—prefer it, relegating this preference to their personal correspondence and notes. I’ve noticed in old American books printed in the few decades before and after the turn of the last century (ca. 1870–1930 at least) that there seemed to be a trend in publishing to use extra space (sometimes quite a bit of it) after periods. And many people were taught to use that extra space in typing class (I was). But introducing two spaces after the period causes problems: (1) it is inefficient, requiring an extra keystroke for every sentence; (2) even if a program is set to automatically put an extra space after a period, such automation is never foolproof; (3) there is no proof that an extra space actually improves readability—as your comment suggests, it’s probably just a matter of familiarity (Who knows? perhaps it’s actually more efficient to read with less regard for sentences as individual units of thought—many centuries ago, for example in ancient Greece, there were no spaces even between words, and no punctuation); (4) two spaces are harder to control for than one in electronic documents (I find that the earmark of a document that imposes a two-space rule is a smattering of instances of both three spaces and one space after a period, and two spaces in the middle of sentences); and (5) two spaces can cause problems with line breaks in certain programs.

So, in our efficient, modern world, I think there is no room for two spaces after a period. In the opinion of this particular copyeditor, this is a good thing.

If you simply can’t break the habit (which you should try because in the long run it’s more efficient), make sure you reformat your document before submitting it somewhere professional. Look up the manuscript guidelines or style guides for particular publishers and agents, if they have them available.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle

45 comments

C. K. Bryant

And it's sooo easy to fix. Someone taught me this little secret, so for those of you who still do the two spaces, just go to FIND/REPLACE in Word, type in TWO spaces in the first box and ONE in the second, PUSH REPLACE ALL and Voila! All the double spaces are gone.Great Post!!

lauraraeamos

Thanks for this post! I was never really sure about which to use or why. And even as I type this comment I'm using two spaces, lol! (It's a very hard habit to break!)@ C, thanks for the tip! I'm definitely going to need it! 🙂

Stephanie McGee

Interning at the magazine should have broken me of my two space habit. BUt it hasn't. So I use find and replace. Except that I haven't yet submitted anything anywhere. Other than poetry. But that's somewhat different when it comes to formatting rules and such. It's like the serial comma. Most people seem to decry it, but I was taught in school to always use it so I do.

Domey Malasarn

I remember changing to two spaces between sentences and then changing back again. It's like trying to hit a moving target! I'm going to put my spaces before the period from now on .

It's been hard for me, but since I learned that there should only be one space, I've been trying to break the habit. It drives me nuts that these rules change though.

I'm a one-spacer and I'll never go back!

I'm from the old school. Having taught high school journalism for many years, I always adhered to the AP Stylebook and there was never any mention of using one space. Then, I began the process of typing my first manuscript for publication and went online searching guidelines, and lo and behold the practice of using one space seemed to be the industry style. Glad I discovered that before I put fingers to keyboard.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Andrea: I blame those teachers in middle school where I learned to type. They insisted on two spaces when this "rule" changed in like the 1950s. I suppose THEY learned it, then, so they passed it on to us. Maybe the upcoming generations won't have that problems. Who knows. I blame typewriters and the stupid Courier font.

Chantele Sedgwick

I found this out after I wrote my first book. I can honestly say it was hard changing from two to one, but I did it and it's like I've always done it that way. It drives me crazy now when there are two spaces! Thanks for this post! 😀

I hate, hate, hate the double space thing. I once got counted off for not doing it in a typing class and, even though I type nearly 100 WPM and had the best time in the class, I made one of the lowest scores on that project because each time I only used one space, I lost points.Which is DUMB.

Timothy Fish

I started using one space as a kid when I got my first copy of Microsoft Publisher. Somewhere in the manual it said typesetters use one space and I assumed that was just the way it was. On a typed sheet two spaces may not look so bad, but when you're doing a three or four column newsletter those wide blank spots seem like they take up an awful lot of space.

It's a HARD habit to break, but totally worth the effort. Great post. Thanks!

I've never taken a typing class, so it's never occurred to me to put two spaces. I never even knew such a thing existed until I started writing seriously with the pursuit or publication.

Laura Josephsen

I had to train myself to put two spaces in some years ago–now it looks like I might need to retrain myself to use one space!

Two spaces is such a hard habit to break! I've been doing it since my typewriter days in Jr. High!

Tere Kirkland

I always used to put two spaces after each sentences (years of proper art history paper formatting influenced how I typed my novels when I started writing seriously as an adult. But I made the switch several years ago when I started a new novel, and never looked back. When I'm in a full-on typing frenzy, I find it less distracting to use one space after each sentence, just like each word, and it helps keep my prose flowing smoothly, if that makes sense!

Jake Henegan

Seriously?I used single space for I don't know how long, then with great effort switched to two spaces when I read somewhere that it was important to do it like that.Now I have to switch back?If someone changes the rules again, I might explode spontaneously.

Mariel Devine

I also learned to type two spaces after a period. Then I was made aware that two spaces were no longer popular. I looked in the CMOS and read that one space is now preferred. If you already have a lot of written material with two spaces after the period, you can use the find/replace function in Word to convert the format. Simply open the find/replace function and press the spacebar twice in the "find" window, and then press the spacebar once in the "replace" window. You will see nothing in the windows, but Word will replace all those double spaces after periods with a single space. Unfortunately, you can't use find/replace to put the extra space back.

Martin Willoughby

I always do, but then that was the way I was taught. I've not seen anything in submission details, except in certain circumstances, that requires one or two spaces either.Maybe I'll change anyway.

I fall into the old world two spacer group. Thank you for this tip. I really appreciate it.Now I need to go back and correct my two spacing.

Some of you who are upset about the "rules" changing need to realize that the number of spaces you put after a period is not a universal rule. This isn't a matter of grammer; it's a matter of style. So any publishing entity can require whatever they want. Which is why most major book publishers may prefer one space, while many educational institutions still require two (although these places are decreasing). On top of that, this particular matter of style relates not to how you put words together or even how you punctuate, but with typesetting, which is a step of publication that authors generally have nothing to do with. Typesetters are very used to dealing with esoteric issues that nobody else cares about, let alone knows about (for example, did you know there are even different sizes of spaces for different purposes?). Plus, as others have mentioned, it's relatively painless and quick to fix with today's technology. So the push to get authors on board with this issue isn't very strong, and the so-called rule doesn't appear in The Chicago Manual of Style itself but is relegated to their online Q&A column. Publishers really aren't that invested in the issue, and it won't get your manuscript rejected. But you should still try to follow industry standards whenever you can!

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Ben: Thank you! There really is no RULE out there about any of this. It's only a rule if a particular publisher or printer or whoever you're submitting to specifically states that's how they like it. I'll bet most of them don't even say so anywhere. I'll just say it bothers me when I'm reading somebody's manuscript or I'm trying to format an entire anthology and everyone does spacing differently. Personal pet peeve – if you use spaces to tab. Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. In fact, don't use the tab key, either.

This quirk amuses me. Yes, quirk. Sorry, but I'm just as inclined to use double-spaces as you are adamant about using one, and that makes me quirky too.Why? The exact opposite reasons of those listed in the Chicago Manual of Style. (1) It is Efficient. Any habit that improves writing speed is efficient. (2) My fingers are trained to double-space. When you first brought up the topic way back when, I tried to retrain myself, failed, and moved on to things that mattered more to me. (3) My brain notices the difference between one space and two when present, and translates the former as an abbreviation and the latter as the end of a sentence. (4) As a detail-obsessed person, the control factor should be the selling point for me. Actually my experience is that it is equally hard to ensure that only single-space is used as to ensure double-space. (5) Of all the ways I manage to cause line break problems in programs, double-space falls straight to the bottom of the long list. Changes in font and size plus html coding cause much greater issues, for example, and are much more worth pursuing a change in industry practices. (Bonus) I found that the commend how in ancient Greece there was no spaces or punctuation to be an argument for, not against, double-spacing. How grateful I am that language is a living organism which evolves to the needs of its craft!So who is right? We both are, because we use what works for us in our spheres of influence, and love each other enough to forgive the obsessive quirks when visiting. (As long as we don't step on each others toes, of course.)Should I submit work to a professional location, I'll do one-space if it is their standard, certainly. Should I be privileged to edit for you, I'll of course obey your one-space preference. And I'll rely on your tolerance and mercy to allow me what works best for my creative expressions in all other circumstances. ;->

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Yep, Can of Worms.

* shrug * Sorry! You asked in at least two locations that I visit, and I took you up on the offer to comment. My apologies if more restraint would have been appropriate.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Alicia: I said that to all the comments in general, not to yours specifically. Sorry if that was offensive! If I had meant you I would have put your name first. In response to your comment, I think you have very solid arguments. If they're even arguments. They are great observations. I didn't want to start any arguments here (although I knew the very subject might open it up anyway). I don't think there is one universally right or wrong way to space after a period. Most people don't even care. I just think it's a good idea for writers who are pursuing publication to be aware of it. That's all. Thank you for your comment, my friend. 🙂

Raquel Byrnes

My agent and all the editors he submits to really prefer the one space. So…there's that.Edge of Your Seat Romance

Caroline Starr Rose

This took me so long break. Looking at CK Bryant's comment nearly kills me; I spent hours hunting down those stupid extra spaces in old manuscripts!

As a professional copy editor, I deal with this ALL THE TIME. I change it, clients change it back. Really burns my biscuit.Trust me, unless you're using a pre-1980s manual typewriter (and probably not even then), two spaces after a period is NOT necessary. Especially if you're going to be printing or having your manuscript professionally published, it is not desirable in any way; two spaces will only get in the way of the professionals who look after the presentation of your words.If it's a blog comment or a fire-and-forget-it email, then nobody really needs to care. But if you're going to be printing it, presenting it to other people, or having it published in any way, just save yourself and everyone else some time and use single spaces only.On Twitter, it's a different story. I'm so long-winded that I dispense with spaces entirely; every pixel is precious!

Post-rant follow up… :)Other people here have said this too, but as with most things in writing and language, the single/double question boils down to context and customary usage. Customs change. Many things matter in one context, but not another. Reasonable people can disagree about context and customary usage; reasonable people can also be unreasonably inflexible about strange and seemingly arbitrary things.It's frustrating sometimes, but that same intractable mutability (or is it mutable intractableness?) is also part of what makes working and creating with language so much fun.

The English Teacher

It sounds to me like someone needs to write a new computer program that can handle 2 spaces.

Glass Dragon

This was fun! I love worms! Next time let's try to define "art" again! ^.~

Yvonne Osborne

Glad I'm doing something right:)I've always used one, probably due to economy of key stroke, though I honestly don't remember ever using two, even when I was first learning to type. I think a sentence looks funny with two spaces at the end. Like a big toothless grin. The funniest response goes to Domey.

Personally, I've never encountered any problems when it comes to a program that can't handle two spaces after a period. If I did, then I would get a different program. The thing about efficiency is really a hit or miss because, first off, human beings are not inherently efficient–all efforts to be so are kind of futile, but not the point. Anything that gets someone else typing faster, if that's the goal, then go for it.As far as readability, even though most fonts are not like courier, it's still a little easier to read if they leave an extra space, just like it's easier to read a big block of text when broken into paragraphs. Sentences are individual units, like words, and should be treated as such. since there is one space between words–the smallest unit–it follows that there should be two spaces between a sentence, the second smallest unit. Then, of course, line breaks between paragraphs because distinguishing between two and three spaces is doable, but annoying.It seems to me that the rules of style are changed at the whim of certain groups of people. And, really, aside from the architecture and music, why should I care about Chicago? The length of time a certain rule has been in place shouldn't determine whether or not it is to be followed. The determining factor should be logic or preference when typing and readability once published. This can change according to context, like journalism, but when there is a significant group of people that can benefit from reading it with the double space–a benefit that is not canceled out by people who can read just as easily without–the double space should be retained.

The English Teacher

So, true, if we're going to argue efficiency in typing, then we should all get rid of our qwerty keyboards, which were developed, as I understand, only in order to slow typists down so that the keys on those old manual typewriters wouldn't stick as often. Obviously, that's ridiculously unnecessary now, and hence a qwerty board is inefficient. Yet, how many of us use anything BUT a qwerty? I sure don't. And would we change to be more efficient, or would it be less efficient, since we'd all have to spend time re-learning how to type? How efficient can it be for us to re-do manuscripts or re-learn to type with only one space just because someone has issues with spacing on a program? Yes, I'm afraid I agree with Frank here. The "efficiency" argument isn't really valid, since the definition of "efficiency" isn't particularly clear.

LOL: I'm willing to put only one space after a period, but I've a feeling it will be a long time to train my thumbs in the new habit . ………dhole

Tara Stearns

I was taught the two-space at work, not in school. Back when everything was put in a physical letter or memo. I've been two-spacing it since and find it difficult to even think about the spcace(s) at the end of my thought fast enough to prevent the extra tap.But, this is not the first time I've heard the advice to use one-space. Probably will not be the last. I just figured I would type the way am most comfortable rely on find & replace to style it according to submission guidelines.Thanks for the post.

Sharon Jones

I agree with Frxnk, 100%. I was taught to type in school way back in the 60's, and I've been typing the same way ever since. I cannot imagine trying to train my thumb to forget the double space between sentences. I am afraid it would drive me insane! Here's another can of worms I'd like you to open…My editor mentioned to me that people are now being taught to indent only 3 spaces for a new paragraph. Is this true? I was taught 5 spaces! Please tell me it doesn't matter!Thanks for any advice!Sharon 😉

Michael Offutt

It's like we're all being judged at the writing olympics and you do this double sommersault thing off the diving board and I do the same thing but you get a 6 and I get a 5. I ask why? They respond…you took two spaces.

Michelle Davidson Argyle

Sharon: You asked: My editor mentioned to me that people are now being taught to indent only 3 spaces for a new paragraph. Is this true? I was taught 5 spaces! Please tell me it doesn't matter!It doesn't matter. NONE of this matters. If you want to put two spaces after a period, do it. If you want to use 3 spaces for a tab, do it. Just make sure you reformat according to any specifics from where you're submitting. If they don't mention spaces, don't worry about it. Because everyone does everything differently, there will always be jobs for copy editors and layout teams. Everyone: Thanks for your comments here! As far as efficiency goes, it's more efficient for ME to use only one space. If it's not efficient for you, don't do it.It's also more efficient for publishers to only use one space in layout – for lots of reasons I won't even get into here. In the end, we writers probably shouldn't even care about this stuff. The only reason I care is because I do layout for anthologies and other projects.

If the Chicago Manual of Style says do it, and a great number of publishers adhere to that style book-then, I'm a gonna do it.

That's exactly it:– If there is going to be a standard, it pretty much *has* to be single-space after a period. As Michelle says, it's part of an industry-standard technical process; anything outside that is an individual quirk (or an organization's quirk, in which case it's dignified as "house style").– If you're not submitting to someplace that requires it in your MS, or if you're just writing for yourself, then you're perfectly free to use spaces however you want. Just be aware that at some point the industry standard will kick in and be prepared to meet it when it matters.In the meantime, if you are a user of multiple spaces, you will continue to face my personal wrath and scorn. (Which will probably mean nothing to you…and rightly so.) 🙂

Simon C. Larter

One space. I always use one space. Except right there, 'cause I just wanted to be contrarian.:)

I'm a two-spacer, because that's what I learned in school (in 1999). I would switch, but that would mean hours in front of the keyboard, typing from some book and retraining myself. Not really worth my time.And while important to think about, the formatting comes after you actually write something. So if you'll excuse me I have a prince being held captive by some goblins who needs to be rescued.

I'm not a writer, but I've been a reader for many years, and I have to agree with Frxnk. Use two spaces after a period for maximum clarity and ease of reading. Use only one space if your publisher can't afford the extra paper. 🙂

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