English Grammar and Usage, Reader Polls

A Random Friday Poll: One Space or Two Between Sentences?

Sometimes readers will email us with ideas for posts that range from the insane to the mundane. We’ve learned that what may seem mundane to the average citizen may be totally titillating for an attorney.

Members of this profession really, really like rules, especially rules about proper English grammar and usage. Be it confusion over a homophone, misuse of a hyphen, or incorrect placement of a semicolon, every grammar Nazi has a special place reserved in his heart for the idiot who screws these things up.

And that is why the topic of today’s reader poll is about how many spaces one should use between sentences….

A few days ago, we received a reader email suggesting that we hold a poll to resolve this great debate:

One space or two between sentences?

We just had this debate in the chambers I am interning in. Apparently, requiring two spaces after a period is a time-honored mistake. One space appears to be more correct, is widely used, and required by all of the major style guides including the Government Printing Office style guide and the Chicago Style Manual (both of which the Blue Book point to when it’s silent). Most books, magazines, and professional publications use one space. Yet, it appears many firms and judges continue to use two spaces (even West does). Even more surprisingly, many do not know of the one-spacers, and think their writing is sloppy or the writer incompetent.

As shocking as this may be for some of you, I was on law review.


Now that your heart palpitations have stopped, let’s move on. I am nerdily well-versed in all things related to the Bluebook and Chicago Manual of Style. And while CMOS recommends that only one space be used after a period in a published work, our editorial board used two. C’est la vie.

Slate has a great article about how the “two-space rule” came into being. Apparently, all of this started because of a typewriter. Back in the olden days, typewriters used monospaced fonts. In other words, every character took up the same amount of space. So, when using a typewriter, putting two spaces after the end of each sentence actually made the text easier to read.

Then why the hell are we still using two spaces at the end of every sentence when the typewriter has gone the way of the dodo? Because as our reader mentioned above, the two-space rule is a time-honored “mistake.”

Over at Slate, Farhad Manjoo argues that modern-day Americans should opt for the one-space rule:

I actually think aesthetics are the best argument in favor of one space over two. One space is simpler, cleaner, and more visually pleasing (it also requires less work, which isn’t nothing). A page of text with two spaces between every sentence looks riddled with holes; a page of text with an ordinary space looks just as it should.

Meanwhile, at The Atlantic, Megan McArdle warns that you’ll have to pry that second space from her cold, dead hands:

[I]f you’re spending time worrying over whether my emails contain one or two spaces, you need to ask them to let you out of the asylum more often so you can pursue a more interesting hobby. I double space after sentences because I learned to type on a manual typewriter, and it’s not worth the effort to retrain myself. Even if typographers groan every time they open one of my missives.

So which camp is in the right? This is like an even dorkier version of the Team Edward v. Team Jacob debate that emerged from the Twilight saga. I used to be on Team Two-Space, but now that I write for a living, I’ve switched to Team One-Space. What about you?

UPDATE (8/17/11): Jay Shepherd has some thoughts on this issue.

Please take our poll and voice your opinions in the comments.

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of English grammar and usage

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