Spacehead, how many spaces do you use?

Thursday 20 January 2011, 12.23pm HKT

Updated 25 Jan 2013

Normally I have a cool and steady temperament and it takes quite a lot to get me going round the bend. But I’ve just been reading a post about whether to use one or two character spaces after a full stop (BrE) / period (AmE) / full point (Printing), and what got me in a tizz is the fatheadedness of few of the commenters.

spaceheadI’m not even quibbling about whether it’s right or wrong to use one space or two after a full stop. That’s not even the point. The point being that some of these people are sticking to their ‘rule’ (whatever that might be) solely and exclusively on the strength of what a teacher told them to do.

You know, I was going to put in a final comment for the post to ’86’ the thread because it’s now being worked to death, and also the fact that I’m in imminent danger of trolling people just for the lulz.

I just cannot believe some people. It’s two spaces between sentences on a fix-pitched manual or electric typewriter. It’s two spaces on semi-proportional typewriter (like the IBM Selectric Golfballs). It’s bleeding one space on a computer keyboard and anything else.

How hard is that?

I did Pitman Typewriting way back when and qualified at 70 wpm on an Olympia manual typewriter and 45 wpm shorthand. The effing Pitman materials tell us how many spaces to use for different kinds of typewriters — it’s in the BLOODY MATERIALS! READ THE DAMN THING!

After all these years, I’m still seeing people who have too much time on their hands and too little brain power fight it out over this crap.

In one corner you have the two spacers, who are behaving as inconsiderate as humanly possible — even going as far as to show examples as to how it ‘enhances readability’ and where each sentence ends. Actually, it doesn’t. You’re only creating ‘rivers’ of white space within the text and it’s ghastly and cuts down on readability. It also shows that person isn’t much of a reader and don’t have enough reading experience to judge when and where a sentence ends. And if you send in stuff like that to typesetters, I hope you’re loaded because you’d be hit with a big bill time and time again.

In the other corner you have the one spacers, who are behaving as inconsiderate as humanly possible as the two spacers. I’m prepared to let these one spacers off if their typing is mostly on computer keyboards or online. But, you know, some of the one spacers are just as bad as the two spacers, and if they turn in material typed on a real typewriter like that, I hope they’re thick-skinned enough to have it given back.

Both corners having a good go at each other, both digging each other in the ribs, and much fun was had by all by day’s end. Honestly, it’s also a shameful and embarrassing reflection of some people’s attitudes to others. But then again, I’m taking an angry tone here, it’ll pass in time (with two Aspirin) and the next round of drinks on me!

I don’t know how hard it could be for people to switch between one and two spaces depending on what you’re typing on and the format of your typing. Just how effing difficult is this? I mean, I don’t see people complaining about queuing up at the bank to cash a cheque (BrE)/ check (AmE) and then having to use the ATM instead.

I have found during my various stints in various countries around the world that it is exactly the [inner] chaotic people who stick to rules no matter what. Only the visibly chaotic have enough drama to catch our attention, but their numbers are pretty low.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not launching on those comments in that blogpost. Heaven knows there are 100% more of the two-spacers vs. one-spacers in Hong Kong. If that doesn’t scare you, these spacers take on an unmistakably religious-like tone in their arguments. Scared me fartless.

* * *

The routine is actually dead simple. You could do it with your eyes closed.


On a real typewriter with fixed-pitch fount.

On a semi-proportional or ‘golfball’ typewriter.

When using a fixed-pitch fount/font even when on the computer (e.g. Courier).


On a fully proportional-pitched typewriter (e.g. IBM Compositor).

Electronic typesetting (a.k.a. filmsetting).

Anything on the Intarwebz (even with fixed-pitched founts).


It doesn’t bloody matter if your copy is for hand typesetting. The typesetter person will use an em space slug, not ‘two character spaces’ (as one imbecile once said to my face).

N.B. The fact that people could actually lose their jobs for failing to following the above actually kind of makes the above into ‘rules.’

* * *

Personally (and this is a highly personal opinion of mine), I find groupies of one or the other camp are slightly non compos mentis in this day and age. We’ve had the Intarwebz for nearly 20 years already, computers since 1981, and email since the late 1970s, and we’re still stuck on this.

I’m sorry but it’s a really hard habit for me to break, and I will continue to use two character spaces after a full stop on a real typewriter. It enhances readability and shows where each sentence ends. I’ll also use four spaces to separate the U.S. zip codes from the rest of the address because I’m an old-fashioned dick and learnt this when I lived in the USA back in the old days.

I’m sorry, but it’s a really hard habit to break and I have to continue using one character space after a full stop on anything with a proportional fount or via a computer keyboard (with the exception of Courier and suchlike fix-pitched founts). It enhances readability because it obviates the appearance of rivers of white space (soon to be rivers of red blood). If you have to know where each sentences ends, I wouldn’t honestly say you’re actually reading the text and taking on board the message, are you?

Postscript: It took me exactly 28 minutes to write this piece.


© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011. Updated 25 Jan 2013 with image via georgiewho.

7 Responses to “Spacehead, how many spaces do you use?”

  1. Cutting post mate! Thanks for the info on spaces- my publisher specified one space in the documents that I send them but I was old-school and typed the old fashioned way and learned it as two spaces for readability. It makes perfect sense to only use one space in computer docs as a space uses just as much memory as a letter so why add more that are not needed? It’s nice to see the rules in such a simply explained format. Good stuff.


    • Yeah, I’m oldskool too. I’m easy on people because we’re such creatures of habit, and I know it’s pretty hard to unlearn/relearn a manual skill like typing. Most people have no problem when I ask them for copy with one space, and I explain to them that they’d be paying extra if they use two spaces.

      But then I literally have these incredible people who not only refuse to supply copy according to specification, but proceed to frustrate us by playing various tricks like three spaces here and there. They do this merely to force us printers to follow their ways. The mind boggles at these people.

      I suppose it’s a bit like making ice cream. You tell me not to use eggs for that certain recipe. If I were like some of my difficult customers, I would refuse because I’ve always used eggs. Then I go the extra stretch and proceed to add three or four extra eggs just to make life difficult. Jeez, this is how some people operate. I just don’t understand these people.


  2. Asian Dyna said

    My two spaces would be a hard habit to break…
    Interesting site you have.


  3. el said

    I was just wondering about this the other day. I’ll try switching to one space, but it’s already proving trickier than I thought. It gives me some satisfaction when typing to celebrate the end of the sentence with that extra space/flourish, but it’s not worth writing up my entire thesis wrong!


    • Take my advice, ask the faculty how they like the thesis to be formatted. Most of the time, the academics are wrong (on this and probably lots of other things anyway). It doesn’t matter. Just work with what your organisation wants.

      As for the outside real world, use one space between sentences – especially for real typesetting work.

      Like I explained in the post, I have an unbreakable habit of using two spaces on a real typewriter and one space on a computer keyboard – and it’s automatic with me. And that’s how I learnt it way way back in the Seventies, so all this shouldn’t be news to anyone.

      Best of luck to your thesis! You run a nice blog too.


  4. I love your transitions and lucidity.


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