One Space Or Two?

For several years a debate has raged in writer’s and publisher’s circles about whether there should be one or two spaces after a period between sentences.  How do you stand?

I like two spaces.  I learned to use two spaces back when I took typing in high school.  That was a long time ago (never mind how long.)  Back then, when typewriters wrote in proportional spacing only and every letter had the same amount of space, the rule was to always use two spaces between words.  I suppose this developed because there was a lot of white between letters, especially the really thin letters “i” and “j”, and the second space was seen as a way to more strongly identify a break between sentences (the presence of the period notwithstanding).  So I followed the rule and dutifully learned to click the space bar twice with my right thumb after every period.  There, I did it again.  It’s become so ingrained in my typing skills that I don’t think about it anymore, and haven’t for many, many years.

But with the advent of non-proportional fonts in computer-aided writing, such as the ever popular Times New Roman, where “i” and “j” get only the space they need, the amount of white space within a sentence has diminished.  Now some are calling for the elimination of the second space between sentences.  Makes it look better, they say.  We don’t need it anymore.

I say no.  I still click the space bar twice between sentences for several reasons.  First, and certainly the weakest point in my argument, I’ve become accustomed to two spaces because I’ve used it for so long.  If one space becomes an absolute requirement that all publishers and editors insist on and won’t even look at a manuscript with two spaces, I’m sure I could retrain myself to click only once.  That wouldn’t be a problem.  But secondly, and more to the point, I feel the presence of two spaces accents the separation of sentences better than just the period with one space.  To put it simply, it looks better.  It sets each sentence off by the spacing rather than by the period alone.  We still need the period, but the spacing helps.  It also helps in scanning a manuscript for a particular sentence.

Third, some have argued that when a book or article is published, only one space is used in print media, and we should follow their lead and submit manuscripts conforming to that rule.  I believe the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Handbook both recommend only one space.  That may be true, but when we writers submit a manuscript, that manuscript is judged largely on the basis of the writing, not on format.  The manuscript is not published in manuscript form.  The publisher makes the decision as to what font to use, what spacing, punctuation, spelling, grammar, and all the other details of format.  What difference does it make if there are one or two spaces between sentences in the manuscript?  The publisher will do it his way anyway, and the final result probably won’t resemble the manuscript at all.  I find it highly unlikely that a publisher or editor or agent would send a manuscript back solely because the author added a second space between sentences.  That’s never happened to me.  (Yeah, I know, it might.)

So, I will continue to put two spaces after a period until, well, until that requirement becomes a law.

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