One Space After a Period. That’s all. Period.

Full_stop.svgBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Between sixth and seventh hour, a colleague, at least two decades my senior, sat in a student’s desk. “I was taught it is always two spaces.” She wolfed her peanut butter and jelly sandwich before her next class began.

“That was when people used typewriters and a monospaced font. Now, computers use proportional type, so one space after periods is the rule.”

“What? How do you know this?”

“Modern typographers—The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style and the US Government Printing Office Style Manual—agree: only one space after a period.” Extra spaces add unnecessary geography for the eye, I told her. “You have an iPhone, right? In Messages, hit the spacebar two times in quick succession. The period and one space will automatically be added.” Even iPhone agrees: only one space.

Am I a grammar snob? Maybe. But isn’t it an English teacher’s job to obsess over grammar rules, over evolving style guidelines? Isn’t it my duty to not only know about, but also embrace modernity?

Hoping to find resources to pass along to my colleague, I researched space rules. I found a Business Insider article by Mignon Fogarty: “Why you should never add two spaces after a period.” Fogarty writes, “In HTML and many blogging platforms, no matter how many spaces you type, they get turned into one space. If you want multiple spaces, you have to hard code it in using the HTML code.” Modern writers, publishing on web platforms, follow the same rules as hardcopy publishers, essayists and journalists. HTML, style guides, newspapers agree: only one space.

Am I elitist? Do I care about something trite? As an author and writing teacher, I care about details. I encourage my students to care about details too: how the essay looks, how the words sound, how the language evokes emotion. I want to see a passion that shows in intentional language, action verbs, uniform tenses and varied punctuation and sentence structures. And consistent, single spaces.

I sent my colleague these articles:

Space Invaders: Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period” by Farhad Manjoo

Nothing Says Over 40 Like Two Spaces after a Period!” by Jennifer Gonzalez

In Gonzalez’s article, I learned that “although APA guidelines at one time reduced the required spacing after a period from two down to one, they returned it to two in 2009 in the 6th Edition (see section 4, first bullet)…In the legal world, two spaces is still the norm.” Gonzalez suggested, “Although both of these exceptions are irritating, they don’t surprise me, as academia and law are not exactly areas where design reigns supreme. I’m almost positive that in both cases, the spacing is being held onto for the sake of tradition.” I know students (especially math and science brained students) find this difficult to grasp. How can the rule be right sometimes, but not always? I am reminded of the colleagues (I wrote about in a previous blog) who sighed at my attention to Oxford comma inconsistencies. The math and science teachers wanted one right answer. But in writing, like art, often there fails to be one. I remind my students that every choice communicates thoughtfulness, research and attention to detail (or a lack thereof).

Do I believe my generation is right and my colleague’s generation is wrong? No. I realize language evolves. I realize what was once commonplace is now an error; what was once a rule is now opposite. And I empathize when students struggle with English “rules that don’t make sense” or “rules that always change.” I also know when I say one space after a period, some students might not realize I also refer to spaces after exclamation points and question marks.

Just like my previous blog about the Oxford comma, one or two spaces after a period (or exclamation or question mark) can technically be right and wrong (depending on the style guide or purpose). But the key is design and ease. How a paper looks impacts how a reader feels. Think of the way a chef prepares a plate. Presentation either excites or horrifies us, meets or exceeds our expectation. Fogarty’s information about HTML alludes to style as well—it matters how text on websites looks, feels, sits.

After reading the articles I sent, my colleague said, “I will have to use find and replace to help me. Using only one space is a hard habit to break. It’s been imprinted in my brain—and fingers—for forty years.”

“Now, if we can only get everyone in our department to do the same…”

 

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