Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Two Spaces Or Not Two Spaces

Just a reminder: It’s okay to leave comments!

That, it seems, is the question.

Typewriter Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

Not long ago, I was participating in a Skype session at work with a few other staff members. We were reviewing and updating a document. Once we had agreed on a particular change, one of us would make the change. I watched as a staff member (who will remain nameless) type in the new sentences, then dutifully return to put an extra space between them where only one space existed. This was not a formal document; it was an internal checklist of a process.

Interesting, I thought.

I had heard of this two-space thing, as I recall, long ago in some distant corner of my life. I had never seen anyone do this before. Was it a difference in schooling? I had never been taught there was a correct (or incorrect) amount of spaces to be placed between sentences.

Had I read writing with two spaces after a period? I was certain I had, though I couldn't say where or when.

My curiosity was aroused. I decided to research the subject. I'm almost sorry I did. Apparently, this is a sore subject among many in the writing and typography communities. The level of fighting makes the turmoil between political parties seem almost tame.

There are many reasons given on both sides, but I'll only mention a couple here.

"Only old folks used to using typewriters put two spaces after a sentence."

The term "old folks" generally refers to those over 40 years of age in these arguments. I can assure you I am over 40 in both age and IQ, although the second value is often questioned. I don't, however, use two spaces.

"It only applies to monospaced fonts. They aren't needed with modern proportional fonts."

This is summarily dismissed by the two-spacers.

There are other arguments, of course, and the issue has been discussed for at least the last few hundred years according to the articles I've read. I wouldn't be surprised to find the fossilized remains of two opposing tribes of prehistoric cave dwellers where one painted the images of their hands two hand-lengths apart while the other tribe preferred only one. In all likelihood, the very first war was started over this.

There have even been several (supposedly) scientific studies on the matter, all of which resulted in every possible outcome as to whether the one or two spaces made a difference in clarity or reading speed.

As I was thinking about all this (as an excuse to avoid another Skype session in work), I was wondering if those who use two spaces have a problem sending text messages. If you hit the space button twice on a smartphone it puts in a periodand a single space. If you want two spaces, you have to hit the space button again after an indeterminate amount of time. On top of all that, some folks don't use or like punctuation in their text messages. If you're a devout two-spacer and don't use a period between sentences when messaging, this could possibly drive you insane.

Do I have a preference?

No. I can't say I notice a difference when reading either format.

If you wish to use two spaces after a period, I won't mind. I probably won't even notice—unless you make me watch you do it.

When writing, I'll continue to use a single space, though not because I believe in its superiority. It's all I've ever done. I'm not sure I could change now if I tried. No one has ever asked why I only use one space, so it would seem it's not a major issue with everyone. For those it does bother, however, if thy right eye (or left) offends thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. Just make sure it doesn't land on my keyboard. It might hit the space bar.

© 2020 K. R. Smith All rights reserved


  1. It really isn't used anymore as it was a pre-computers based thing. I used to do two spaces when I was a secretary and using a typewriter, but the spacing and formatting is different in the digital work and it is not accepted in the publishing world anymore, and I will admit it looks wrong in print now.

    1. While it was certainly started long ago, I think the reason some still double-space today is more complex than it being a pre-computer standard. If that was the case, only older folks (and probably retired) would be doing this. Having discussed this with a number of people, the only ones I've found (either by witnessing the act or them having told me) who still do the double-space are all younger than me and – they work in the IT field (IT Specialist, Database Specialist, Network Analyst, etc.). I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I find it interesting!


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