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Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong – lies typographers tell about history (heracliteanriver.com)
309 points by eru on Sept 14, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 223 comments

Why is it that rarely does anyone distinguish output format from source format in these discussions?

Two spaces are used to semantically separate sentences in source format. They can be collapsed or modified for typeset output (like HTML rendering), but nobody should be telling an author to use single space in source format if the author wants to add the additional semantic separation between sentences.

Particularly at fault are sanitizers like tidy (not just stand-alone, but sometimes used as a component in document editors) which will collapse multiple spaces by default. They're not doing any other html rendering, and they're not minifying the html either, so why do they insist on removing a common form of semantic content information in the source document? Collapse >2 spaces to 2 in some cases, perhaps, but not 2 to 1, particularly not after punctuation.

The two spaces vs one space argument for how text should be typeset is a completely different issue and unrelated to the question of how many spaces human typists should use between sentences. Using two spaces between sentences happens to make it easier for typesetting software to automatically apply whatever magical 1+epsilon or 1-epsilon inter-sentence spacing it deems best, assuming the typesetting software can deduce that the author is using the two-space sentence convention (otherwise it has to fall back on heuristics, which are not perfect).

Any author is free to choose how many spaces to use between sentences, but collapsing 2 spaces when editing others' documents is wrong, and so is preventing an author from using two spaces. Doing so removes information content from the document, which can only be restored perfectly by humans (or other things with human-level natural language processing ability).

Two spaces are used to semantically separate sentences in source format.

That's the function of the period, which does the job perfectly well already, as you demonstrate yourself.

Any author is free to choose how many spaces to use between sentences, but collapsing 2 spaces when editing others' documents is wrong, and so is preventing an author from using two spaces. Doing so removes information content from the document, which can only be restored perfectly by humans (or other things with human-level natural language processing ability).

I could just as easily argue that it's wrong to include redundant semantic information. If I were to begin using double commas,, should everyone else alter their reading habits to accommodate my affectation? Fuck that.

>That's the function of the period,

This breaks in the case of "Mr. Jones went to the store. He enjoys buying things." The spacing after 'Mr.' should be less than after 'store.'. If two spaces are prohibited, you have the following options, neither of them particularly satisfactory:

-The user must input some form of special Unicode space character after 'Mr.'

-The display software must include a list of all words that, when followed by a period, should not include extra space (e.g., "Mr, Mrs, Messrs, etc, e.g, i.e" and so forth).

Says you. I was fine with it being the same when I learned to type (on a typewriter) and having text-presentation software do some micro kerning on certain abbreviations doesn't bother me in the least; automating such drudgery is one of the main reasons to use computers in the first place.

A third option is to dispense with the punctuation marks on abbreviations and simply refer to 'Mr Jones.' This took a little getting used to, but since real grammatical consistency would involve abbreviating 'Mister' as 'M'r,' (a practice which you can see in some older books and which persisted with obscure words like f'c's'le) dropping the period seems simpler. It's good enough for the Economist, whose style guide I prefer.

Consider 'T. S. Eliot'. I guess 'T S Eliot' could give an alternative, but it hasn't gained traction. I'm sure there are more cases.

What's "f'c's'le"?

I would guess (but don't know) that it's forecastle.

It is indeed. Since it rhymes with "voxel", the "fo'c'sle" spelling is a much better one than "forecastle".

Sure is. :)

I'm a read-aloud-in-my-head kind of reader, and I remember really struggling with that one in Moby Dick.

(It's "fo'c'sle," by the way, sometimes even encountered as "fo'c's'le." In the latter case, I wonder why simply writing "forecastle" wasn't the easier choice back in the day).

It's closer to the actual pronunciation of "folk•sel"

In contrast, The Economist's style guide does not use periods after titles like Dr, Mr, Mrs, or Messrs:


The part which you omitted is that you can also use a period for denoting an abbreviation. It then can become ambiguous as to whether you're parsing that, or the end of a line. The only way to then determine whether it's an abbreviation is to use some other form of heuristic, which becomes a pain in the ass.

Regardless, we're seriously into Parkinson's Law of Triviality territory. I'll support either way as long as the bike shed has an aluminum roof.

I could just as easily argue that it's wrong to include redundant semantic information. If I were to begin using double commas,, should everyone else alter their reading habits to accommodate my affectation?

Do double commas serve some purpose other than a presentational quirk? Double spaces at the end of a sentence have semantic meaning distinct from a single space, as shown by other replies.

I think for your argument to make sense you either need to show that double spaces don't have any special distinguishing characteristic at the end of a sentence, or allow that they do, and double commas to as well, but we're better off without them. Otherwise, I don't really see a relation between double commas and double spaces at the end of a sentence.

The double spaces only serve as a presentational quirk, too. The amount of space after the sentence ends does not determine whether or not it has ended. Most mass-produced material no longer uses longer spaces after the end of a sentence, and websites require CSS or the use of special character entities to produce longer spaces, so it follows that most people do not require double spaces when reading as an indication that the sentence has ended.

The sequence "period space space" is also not reliable for a computer to determine the end of a sentence, either, so in building a lexer you would likely remove the consecutive spaces (outside of content that is marked as pre-formatted) and use some other method of determining whether a period is being used for an abbreviation, the end of a sentence, or some other purpose. In fact, you might even throw out the period, since it is no longer a necessary part of the content (though the parser would add it back in for output in most situations).

The amount of space after the sentence ends does not determine whether or not it has ended.

Let me re-phrase to clarify my point. Double spaces after a period more accurately distinguish the end of a sentence from other possible meanings. See bmelton's comments.

The sequence "period space space" is also not reliable for a computer to determine the end of a sentence

Not reliable because of some other inherent ambiguity, or because not everyone is using double spaces? If you are arguing we shouldn't do it because not everyone does it, I'm not sure how to respond... Is there some other case where a period followed by two spaces is acceptable, and doesn't mark the end of a sentence?

WTF?? So,, yes,, use double-commas to drive home your point since you must have had some reason to put them there. I will continue to use double space after the end of a sentence for the same reason.

WTF?? So,, yes,, use double-commas to drive home your point since you must have had some reason to put them there.

My point is that you would be quite right to reject writing in which someone employed double commas as an affectation. Just because a writer thinks it says something special does not mean readers have to agree.

My point is that you would be quite right to reject writing in which someone employed double commas as an affectation

Personally, I think writing should be judged mostly on content, not presentation. Sometimes the line can be hard to determine on which is which, but to me that we reject things based on presentation (which we all do), is an unfortunate circumstance of our human nature.

to me that we reject things based on presentation (which we all do), is an unfortunate circumstance of our human nature

Not at all. Assuming that the required presentation is well-known (not a secret), and is relatively easy to implement (e.g. doesn't require specialized equipment), what is the reviewer supposed to think of a writer who couldn't follow the instructions?

Among other things, standardized formatting (not commas, but fonts and margins) also makes life easier for the reviewer, for instance letting him/her know at a glance how long a piece will be. And they have to scan many, many pieces, most of them crap.

I'm speaking as a writer who submits stories using standard manuscript format. Writing provides ample opportunity for creativity. I don't need to use my creativity in font or margin or punctuation choice. And it's just not that hard.

If anything, you support my point. That you know you must make the job easier for the reader because otherwise they may not get to the actual thing you are writing about, the content, is exactly what I'm talking about.

In an ideal world, your writing would have just as much chance of being read and appreciated if it were presented in all caps or all lowercase, single spaced or double.

I simply think it's unfortunate, if understandable for multiple reasons, that we don't live in that world.

In an ideal world, your writing would have just as much chance of being read and appreciated if it were presented in all caps


In an ideal world, we wouldn't have limited time, and could make decisions based on the best criteria. Whether someone has figured out the best way to communicate with their audience should have no bearing on whether their ideas have merit. It does matter though, which is obvious. That doesn't keep me from wishing the world was a better place.

Publishers routinely reject things simply based on presentation for the simple fact that most authors are willing to do a significant amount of the work (that would otherwise be done by typesetters and editors) just to ensure they get published, and it's rarely going to hurt the publisher if the author takes their work somewhere else, instead.

My theory for the mass use of the double space is that it was such a common requirement from publishers at one time (and in some areas probably still is) simply because it distributed a massive amount of menial work and most people can simply make a habit of it and never bother to question or complain about it. Another is that, once taught this particular practice, many people confuse it with the requirement that a document is double-spaced.

Definitely in agreement on this one. I have a writing app which uses HTML as it's native format, and I've received a number of complaints from people about how it doesn't allow you to use multiple consecutive spaces. I suspect most of them are coming from a MS Word background (the app lets you edit Word documents but converts them temporarily to HTML for editing).

Usually I just explain that this is how HTML works; whitespace is collapsed, and so my app is inherently dependent upon the capabilities of HTML and the layout engine being used (in my case, WebKit).

However after the most recent complaint I finally spent some time looking deeper into the CSS spec and found out that you can set white-space: pre-wrap on a style, which will preserve consecutive spaces in the way that some people are accustomed to in Word. Now that I'm aware of this, I'll be turning this on by default for Word documents when I translate them to HTML, and for documents stored directly in HTML format I'll offer this as an option that can be set on a document-wide or style-specific basis.

I've always seen the one-space vs. two-space argument as a bit pointless, since this is something that is within the domain of what software can handle, for the most part. LaTeX has facilities for adding extra space after periods, for example. The main difficulty is distinguishing between abbreviations and words like e.g. which don't start a new sentence, so you don't want extra space after them. And I'm not aware if any web browser or HTML layout engines which add extra space like LaTeX (which I think is 1.5 times a normal space), but I cold be wrong.

As much as I've been in the camp of "just use one space; what's the big deal?" I think you've raised a very good point that the double-space can be treated as semantic information that instructs the typesetting system to place the surrounding characters further apart, even if it isn't exactly two spaces (and in the case of justified text, giving a greater weight to whitespace specified using two space characters).

TL;DR: white-space: pre-wrap is a handy feature of CSS

Honestly, I think it's neurotic that human beings will receive criticism for, and have to worry about the choice of how many times they tap a space bar when writing (not even coding). That we have to even include things like output format and source format to distinguish between is just on another level entirely (I'm not criticizing you, your point is valid).

I mean, when I read titles like this I think to myself, "Who gives a shit?"...then I read a long thread and think, "Wow, this is actually a real debate."

I never knew there was so much that could go into a decision about typesetting spaces. You learn something new everyday.

> I mean, when I read titles like this I think to myself, "Who gives a shit?"...then I read a long thread and think, "Wow, this is actually a real debate."

May I interest you in some further reading? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper_orientation

For both two spaces and and toilet paper, the heart of the issue is not that it's the slightest bit important, but that one's own preference is always so blindingly obviously correct.

For example, I butter my bread butter-side up, which is obviously correct, but Zooks prefer butter-side down. Something really ought to be done about them.

For HNers who may have missed it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Butter_Battle_Book

With things that have functional differences, one way is definitionally "better". They can't be the same and they aren't merely aesthetic preferences. ("over" and one-space are proper).

Now you're thinking about the nominal definition of "better", but I think you underestimate the scope of and importance people give to aesthetics.

But none of that really matters because in the next ontological step we question the definition of definitions. [1] And if you look into it, the smartest people in history haven't really gotten any closer to putting debates like these to rest.


I'm truly amazed by both the length of that article, and the number of references.

Find a reason to write a program that needs to separate prose into sentences, then ask yourself if the argument is neurotic.

It's common to use tables of abbreviations to know when a period is probably not the end of a sentence, and then apply imperfect rules to handle edge cases like proper nouns. It's tedious and inaccurate.

Tough. You will never ever ever convince the world to conform to a rigid standard of two spaces between sentences, so your program is going to have to handle that kind of input.

Granted, any program that has to deal with other writers' text has to deal with both possibilities, but two spaces improves accuracy, both for typesetting and for semantic recognition of sentences for other purposes. Even in a document with a mix of two spaces and one space between sentences, a program can settle a case that would otherwise be ambiguous if there are two spaces. The more simplistic (and inaccurate) your single-space sentence determination algorithm is, the more valuable it is to be able to assume (or assign a high weighting that) a two-space separation marks a new sentence.

I know the world will never universally adopt using two spaces, but that doesn't mean they should get away with making spurious typesetting-related arguments and undoing the work of those who use 2 spaces. If a few more people decide that semantic richness is enough reason to start using two spaces, so much the better.

The problem is that the argument for using 2 spaces was never originally about parsing the text with a computer. Further, even the justification for using 2 spaces in the article is not doing so, either, it's an attempt at justifying using 2 spaces to emulate a typesetting practice (using a single space that was 2 or 3 times as wide as the space between words) which you still would not have expected someone to blindly apply to all text (you might have someone do it to all of the text just so a more experienced typesetter could come along behind them and make the adjustments that required a good eye for the work). Eventually publishers just found it easier to turn authors into apprentice typesetters, and probably found that most of the work they produce isn't worth paying an experienced typesetter to finish with that level of detail (and this attitude also shows in the editing of mass-market material, too). Of course, most mass-market publications use spaces of the same size after the end of a sentence as between words, now, and probably don't do much manual adjustment of the alignment of the text, either.

Additionally, if you assume that "period space space" indicates the end of a sentence, eventually you're going to run into some case where that's wrong, too. It's bound to happen in a world where we routinely teach people to blindly hit "period space space." You may be better off incrementally improving your lexer/parser (or using and contributing to an open source project) and throwing out the excess spaces.



oh man I learned allman style as a high schooler, and it makes me sad that certain constructs in javascript (return) do not allow you to do this, and that gofmt forces you to use K&R...

I sympathize with you. I learned allman style first because that's what my java programming book used. When I started learning C, which is pretty K&R dominated, I found it really hard but got used to it and now when I go back and look at that java book it's like constantly stalling in a standard shift car.

what, no tabs vs spaces? and is a tabstop 2,3,4,6 or 8 spaces wide?

I hate double spacing. And you can dismiss that as a personal preference, but there's a problem with it, objectively speaking. Normally, whitespace is collapsed in HTML and it's a moot point. But not in WordPress.

Now, let me pick on patio11. He uses double spacing in his articles. Not a big deal, right? But the extra spaces causes unintended indentations in paragraphs. I know it shouldn't bother me, but it drives me bonkers. For example, I see it in the second paragraph here: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2011/10/28/dont-call-yourself-a-pro...

That isn't the fault of double spacing[1], it's the fault of HTML for being a shit system for typography and Wordpress for trying to fix that in a broken way (using a space followed by nbsp rather than an en-space (or whatever value of wider space you prefer)).

[1] I think double is the wrong term here since most people don't actually want two full spaces, but creating anything else is too hard most of the time (or impossible on a typewriter).

If you're going to hate over that, then I'm glad not to know you. I was taught to double space in typing class many years ago. I do it by habit now. I prefer the way it looks. In fact if you look at the source to any comment I make, you'll find that I do it by habit DESPITE the fact that I know that in many mediums it is going to get lost.

I've noticed many writers that I respect doing the same thing. I'd include patio11 as an example.

The fact that WordPress does the wrong thing with it is a bug in WordPress. The fact that you would hate the way that many good writers like to type, and like to see their words written, is a bug in your brain.

We both have preferences. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit on mine (it's never put me off from reading anybody, including Patrick), but this... really?

>If you're going to hate over that, then I'm glad not to know you...The fact that you would hate the way that many good writers like to type, and like to see their words written, is a bug in your brain.



If you hate over a preference for double spaces after periods, then I don't want to know you. Because what else would you hate over? I don't want to even think about the possibilities of facing stupid landmines like that.

If you don't hate and merely have a preference, well, that's different. But hate means something specific to me.

You've escalated a conversation about spaces into a personal attack. I think you should reconsider this.

I'm not sure what specific meaning you've assigned to the word hate. In my mind, hating an idea is not a fatal personality flaw.

As much as I agree btilly might have crossed a line, “hating an idea” would be considered a fatal flaw by many, including myself, depending on the social context and idea itself. Maybe “disapproval” would be a better word in this situation; “hatred” has too much emotional and social baggage that its use even in hyperbole may have to go away if we can ever hope to regain any notion of sensible discussion.

The rules say not to say anything you wouldn't say in person. And if you'd say something like that in person, you might want to think about what kind of person that makes you.

All he said was "I hate double spacing."

And all btilly said was "If [trivial aesthetic concerns cause you to experience hate], I don't want to know you."

I think that's an entirely defensible position. And without knowing btilly, or having myself said this particular thing, I can easily imagine myself saying things like that in person, in some circumstances, and it's a point of personal pride.

To reply to some of the other comment threads, without spawning many sub-comments, I note that "I don't want to know you" is not the same sentence as "I think you should be murdered", or something. Experiencing hatred for aesthetics may or may not be a fatal character flaw, but that's completely irrelevant.

>If you hate over a preference for double spaces after periods, then I don't want to know you.

Were does he say he hates the people doing it? Nowhere. He merely says "I hate double spacing".

If you are gonna judge people by what typographic conventions they hate and "don't wanna know them", then I don't wanna know you.

I find it interesting that the criticisms of his statement all leave out the rationalizations that immediately follow it. I view that as important context.

Were does he say he hates the people doing it? Nowhere. He merely says "I hate double spacing".

You seem to be making assumptions about his reasoning. I think it was fairly clear when he said "Because what else would you hate over? I don't want to even think about the possibilities of facing stupid landmines like that."

If you are gonna judge people by what typographic conventions they hate and "don't wanna know them", then I don't wanna know you.

He's judging the top comment based on their statement of how they judge. I think that's fair.

Keep in mind, someone stating they don't want to know (associate, have as a friend or acquaintance, etc) you isn't necessarily an insult in the common sense. When backed up by reasoning based on evidence, it's not asserting anything not already known about that you. Any insult is based on respect you must have for that person (whether specific or general to the any person). When on the receiving end of this statement, it's up to you to determine whether you care what that person thinks, and if so, whether your behavior need examination.

"Hate" might be too strong but "preference" is too weak for something that both looks bad and is extraneous. And is trivial to eliminate.

I have the same learned habit (from using typewriters) of using two spaces after a period.

But I think you are overreacting here. In common spoken english the phrase "I hate X" often does not literally mean that, it means "X annoys me."

> In fact if you look at the source to any comment I make, you'll find that I do it by habit DESPITE the fact that I know that in many mediums it is going to get lost.

I believe you also have a bug in your brain.

[Edit: Sorry, I replied to the wrong post. It was btilly who wrote the following quote, in another reply to the parent post.]

I prefer the way it looks.

And in the end, this is why so many petty typographic debates are futile.

Some aspects of typography are about practical matters. The choices here tend to be quite objective, and almost everyone will agree about which choices are better, at least once they appreciate the significance of the difference. Using a programming font where some characters look too similar leads to bugs. Setting a magazine article with a huge line length and tiny font size will likely reduce reading speed and retention.

Other aspects of typography are about subjective taste, a matter of art and personal design choices. This is almost always the case with trivial whitespace and punctuation issues. Does anyone really fail to understand the meaning of a post here on HN because the poster used a double-hyphen (--) as informal punctuation instead of looking up the code for a typographer’s em-dash (—)? Will anyone die if I personally set my em-dashes with a space either side in HTML because I think the “standard” tight setting looks awkward? Of course not.

Sometimes a change falls between these two clear categories, and this is the case with doubling spaces after punctuation. To some extent, the basic appearance is subjective, but if the design choices result in rivers appearing in the text, this will almost certainly impair readability, an objectively worse situation. However, in these cases there is rarely a better answer than having someone who knows what they’re doing examine the specific piece of typesetting and make manual adjustments to fix the problems. It’s an exercise that I think anyone seriously interested in typography should try at least once, both to understand how easily any automated system can get things wrong in specific cases and to understand how impractically time-consuming and expensive it would be to have human operators review everything and fix all such minor details manually.

That is arguably a bug in wordpress.

I've, like you, noticed that wordpress seems to change (some? all?) spaces to non-collapsing spaces (not sure exactly what mechanism is used);

this article and your comment makes me curious as to why. Is it an explicit attempt to support two spaces after periods?

If so, there's a way for wordpress to fix the the bug; leave most spaces alone, but convert two spaces after a period or other sentence ending puctuation (and only there) to a   or &emps;. But it's hard to say for sure this would be an improvement if we don't know what the heck wordpress is trying to do in the first place with it's odd behavior; i've never seen it documented.

I also hadn't known that linotype did/does collapse whitespace (including newlines) too -- the heritage of HTML's similar behavior?

That appears to be his platform replacing the space+space he typed with space+nbsp.

As a fan of double spacing after sentences, in my own systems I replace space+space with nbsp+space. Attaching the non-breaking space to the previous word (opposed to the next) avoids that odd indentation behavior you've cited. Instead, it means in edge cases, the last word of a sentence might be wrapped to the next line when its width alone doesn't merit the wrap, but most readers' eyes cannot perceive that.

I've found it disappointing that HTML/CSS has no ability to specify preservation of two inter-sentence spaces while retaining conventional word-wrap semantics. I suppose in some ideal world, it would not be simply "preserve" what is typed, but "detect sentences and apply my preferred spacing," allowing adjustment by the reader in a user style-sheet.

I've found it disappointing that HTML/CSS has no ability to specify preservation of two inter-sentence spaces while retaining conventional word-wrap semantics.

You can accomplish this with CSS3 white-space:pre-wrap


You can use other HTML entities, such as     which should have a wider width while wrapping as if it were a single space.

What you really need is something like LateX which adjusts the space following a full stop dynamically. This causes problems like detecting a full stop sometimes (consider something like St. Olaf which will look funny unless you tell LaTeX not to do this!)

The fact is that the extra spacing makes stuff easier to read. It isn't usually 1 space vs 2. I think LaTeX uses more nuanced rules than that.

That's a little neurotic to be honest.

Yeah I tend to liken the debate over sentence spacing to the "debate" over whether a toilet seat should be left up or down.

It's generally petty and irrelevant (most people don't even notice). And it's 100% an annoying discussion I'd rather not be spending even a minute of my time on.

Here's another reason it's bad: it increases the problem of rivers in the text, degrading readability.

Yep. For an explanation of why double-spacing is objectively wrong, read this:


Isn't this the exact Slate.com article that the posted article deems inaccurate?

I believe the idea is that if we ignore the fact that this article refutes slate, we can pretend slate refutes this article.

>>if we ignore the fact that this article refutes slate

You seem to be having difficulty distinguishing opinions from facts.

I'm confused. Either you know information that makes the very specific examples and evidence in the article, and how they purportedly refute the slate article's claims about the source of double spacing (and thus casting doubt based on claims made based on that), which I would like to see, or I'm entirely unable to parse your meaning.

Calling ignorant what is indisputably taught in many places as standard syntax is pathetically pedantic. Honestly this is the first discussion of single vs double spacing rules that I've encountered. It's been taught to me since grade school and will take more than a vitriolic Slate article to break that habit.

>>It's been taught to me since grade school

A good habit to get into is always question what you are taught. And if the answer you are given is, "because that's the way it has always been done," then assume it is wrong.

Literally the only argument for double spacing is that it provides semantic separation. Except we already have something that does that. It's called a period. So when you are using both a period and double spacing, you are being redundant.

From the Slate article you posted:

"Who says two spaces is wrong?" they wanted to know. Typographers, that's who. The people who study and design the typewritten word decided long ago that we should use one space, not two, between sentences.

The only argument (which is apparently historically inaccurate according to the parent article) made against double-spacing is an appeal to authority and 'the way it's always been done', exactly what you are rallying against in your last reply.

Besides, as has been pointed out already in this thread, a period followed by a single space (followed by a capitalized letter) does not solely occur in end-of-sentence contexts, so a period followed by two spaces does provide an added degree of semantic separation.

Personally, I have no preference. You do what you like, I'll do what looks good to me. I am amazed that someone would assume that I was uneducated or ignorant (like the typographer interviewed in the Slate article), because I usually put two spaces after a sentence-ending period.

> Literally the only argument for double spacing is that it provides semantic separation.

"Mr. and Mrs. Jones went to St. Maarten, to see Mr. Jones, Jr. Ph.D., an M.D. who was studying further to get his D.D.S. from noted dentist, W.E.B. DuBois."

Having had to do it before, I can tell you that I've yet to find a bullet-proof way to parse that sentence (programmatically) and guarantee that you weren't going to get random sentence parts.

Assuming pristine data, I could just split on .<space><space> and be done with it.

Does that mean you're against uppercasing the first letter of a sentence?

i'll take on that argument: yes. uppercase is more or less redundant and, hopefully, will one day be phased out. we're already seeing language move in that direction; even acronyms and abbreviations are often written lowercase nowadays. lots of things would be much more convenient, and we could do away with 2 or 3 keys and 26 characters.

Did you even read the article?

A double space is Nx more area for a visual cue.

N is at least 8 to 1.

Placing sentences on their own lines would even be better at offering visual cue.....oooh I see what you did there

lol, dude that was funny.

I thought the book Practical Typography made the best case by just showing an example. Two spaces creates rivers in the text that make it look bad. The author's proposed solution to custom-typeset to avoid this is not sustainable (because it's sensitive to reformatting) or practical.

Judge for yourself: http://practicaltypography.com/one-space-between-sentences.h...

"not sustainable ... or practical"

The thesis is that the publishers pushed for the rule because it was cheaper. Your view is aligned with that thesis.

The author doesn't propose a two-space solution. The author explicitly says that you should feel free to use either one space or two spaces. Instead, the author points out that the older solution was based on having knowledgeable typesetters.

The author's proposed solution to custom-typeset to avoid this is not sustainable (because it's sensitive to reformatting) or practical.

Isn't this what computers are for?

For anyone who hasn't seen it. An interesting read:

river detection in text http://dsp.stackexchange.com/questions/374/river-detection-i...

former HN comments: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5268364

I can't see rivers in the example. Here's a screenshot.


There's a river starting on line two "sentences." through the period in "habit." and down through the space to the right of "set" 'anymore." and "practice."

Considering that the placement of the words in the two examples is exactly the same, the "river" is present in both.

Nope. Visually it's not there in the first instance.

It absolutely is. If you want to argue it's not as large, that's fine, but it is definitely present.


I can only assume the text is supposed to be full justified. It's fairly hideous looking otherwise and it explains the bizarre hyphenation.

If you tweak the css (text-align: justify), 1-4 word sentences do stand out in a bad way.

Personally, I find the double-spaced version more readable.

Your browser most likely took this into account when doing the text layout. HTML & CSS don't specify algorithms for line-breaking, which the person who wrote that may not have realised.

In order to demonstrate the problem reliably, they would have had to use an image or PDF file. But the fact that your browser fixed it (as did mine) indicates that it's not actually a problem, since it can be solved automatically in software.

Some issues can be solved automatically in software, but that's like saying a sufficiently smart compiler can produce optimal machine code. It's true, but such software doesn't actually exist. There is still a lot of manual adjustment that goes on, especially in magazine layout, around headline kerning and text spacing issues to tweak the output from the algorithms.

I judge that it makes little difference.

If typesetting aesthetics are actually important to the document you're creating, you should be using software like LaTeX that figures out all the spacing for you. If you're typing up a word document for functional usage, it doesn't matter how many spaces you put in there

(Yes, I am giving you permission to go all e.e. cummings in your emails)

I think LaTeX is overprescribed. It's great for academic papers, but a lot of the output from canned styles I see is lacking. Don't expect to get perfect typography if you don't understand the desired proportions between type size and spacing (see for example Bringhurst). LaTex is difficult to use if you are new to it or trying to do something custom.

Personally, I'd much rather use commercial software like InDesign/QuarkXPress and never touch LaTeX again. With that software, you can manually and visually tweak things like word spacing for particular paragraphs to solve problems like rivers. Of course InDesign will not automatically make documents look nice either, but it's easier to do if you know what you're trying to achieve. This is the kind of software used for modern magazine layout.

edit: smalltalk below also posted a similar reply as I was typing this, but is hellbanned

You are correct in stating that LaTeX is no silver bullet. The clear disadvantage of LaTeX is the tweak-recompile cycle, whereas graphical tools have instant feedback which is more suitable for design. But for automated typography (≠ design), it is still unsurpassed after all those years.

The default LaTeX styles are still way prettier and easier to read than the random muck (12pt Times, small margins) that would be more widespread otherwise. For scientific papers this is truly awesome, especially when the author does not care about typography. But you are right, LaTeX is not the correct tool for every job.

Now, if we can just get LaTex with instant feedback, we can approach the best of both worlds.

On Linux, inotify, pdflatex, and evince combine in the expected way. I edit with vim and :w and it does the work in the background. Strictly, I use a Makefile and make, but that's not a real difference.

I keep meaning to dig into this sort of write-based build trigger, and I'm going to grab this excuse. As I understand it, inotify is a syscall, right? Do you have custom C code to hook it and trigger your make? What are the standard options for command-line access to inotify? Rudimentary googling suggests incron or watcher (not watch). Any other advice?

Hmn, how the heck did I miss all these related google results the last few times I tried to research this. I start looking at things like libnotify and can't help but notice while such technologies seem to be focused on other kinds of events, they seem like they might work for this kind of file-watching thing.

[inotify-tools](https://github.com/rvoicilas/inotify-tools/wiki) is the stuff you want. There's a nice utility called inotifywait in there which will block until there's a change in a file or directory (it does recursive as well).

You can get results from as simple as this bash one-liner:

     while(true); do inotifywait --exclude '.*.swp' -e close_write dir; make; done
I wrote that off the top of my head so it may not work straight off, but you get the idea.

IIRC, isn't Lyx what you are looking for ?

I never used it so I might be wrong.

-- Edit: http://www.lyx.org/

LyX is halfway there. It is a visual editor for LaTeX, but it does not actually show the final result. Instead, it operates on an intermediate representation. Stuff like section headings, math environments and tables are shown correctly (unless you use non-standard features), but margins and spacings are not. Ergo it isn't suitable for designing, or nitpicky typography. It calls this approach WYSIWYM – what you see is what you mean.

The user experience is quite similar to your regular word processor, except that the “paper” metapher is removed.

I tried it out for a while, but I feel more productive (and more in control) when using a regular editor with nice syntax highlighting.

The IPython notebook almost does it, using LaTeX for math and markdown for text. There are still a few issues at the moment, particularly lack of references, that keep me from doing real technical articles entirely from within the notebook.

Give Gummi a try if you haven't. Its automatically updating preview pane might have what you are looking for.


I use latexmk and coupled with a script which uses inotifywait. Evice automatically reloads the PDF on changes, so I get semi-instant feedback. Works okay for me.

On the off chance you're not aware of it,

  latexmk -pdf -pvc file.tex
does essentially that. If you like Unicode in your source (infinitely more readable and exactly the same keystrokes in Emacs)

  latexmk -xelatex -pvc source.tex

> Now, if we can just get LaTex with instant feedback, we can approach the best of both worlds.

Okay, try this: http://arachnoid.com/latex

It's not ideal, but it's a start on something that could be much more powerful.

I've added

  map <F4> :!pdflatex %
to my tex.vim. It's on demand, but after the first compilation it's almost instant. :)

Edit: as mentioned in another comment, Evince updates automatically when the file changes.

LaTeX is a real tool, so naturally it takes quite some work for a beginner to be able to use it - the advantage is its raw power.

And yes you can definitely use it to do custom things, and yes it can be made to not move graphics around, which is usually the biggest complaint MS Word users has, but no you shouldn't do it.

I don't use LaTeX often at all, but I have found in the past that it was awesome for collaborative papers. Just check it in to version control, start taking advantage of include to break it up into logical parts and reduce the frequency of merges, and you're golden.

William Adams (http://mysite.verizon.net/william_franklin_adams/portfolio.h...) is a typographer who has extensively used both InDesign/Quark and TeX. He has often posted his experience with the two in different tex related mailing lists: http://wiki.contextgarden.net/Comparison_between_ConTeXt_and...

I think LaTeX is overprescribed.

I think it's underprescribed.

I've only just started using it (I've been aware of it and taken peaks from time to time). For both my own authoring and for marking up content from elsewhere (HTML or text dumps) it's quick, easy, and convenient. Some works take a while (lots of formatting and footnotes), others largely require only slapping on a prefix, an "\end{document}" at the end, and chapter headings.

Among the best aspects: once you've got marked-up Tex format, you can publish to pretty much any format you wish. The source can be managed under source control, you're free to use any editor you wish. Autoload / autobuild features make tracking minor tweaks easy (as others have noted, the evince PDF viewer will reload a file on change).

Styles can be modified. That's the brilliance of LaTeX. Write your text. Worry about the presentation side later. And the default styles _are_ good. Better by far than much of what goes on the Web these days.

And if you absolutely must, it's still possible to go to a specific layout tool to get pixel-perfect output.

In addition, LaTeX is clear that the preferred separation after a sentence is 1.5 spaces. The End.

No, it's not. It is

  normal space + extra space ± stretch’/shrink’
where spaces depend on font, stretch’ and shrink’ depend on normal stretch/shrink and space factor.

Not to mention \frenchspacing (TLDR: it's also language-dependend)

You're being pedantic in muddying things with extra variables, namely the adjustment due to full justification. Let's simplify things and just consider ragged right. In this context, TeX is indeed approximately 1.5 spaces after a period, except for \frenchspacing, which uses 1 space.

AFAIK, the reason TeX uses this default spacing is because Don thought it looked good.

I always use \frenchspacing and make it 1.

What a compromise.

>that figures out all the spacing for you

What are you even talking about? Yes Word figures out spacing for you too.

Typography is complex and Word is quite inadequate for that.

For example, take the simple subject of rivers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_(typography)

LaTex knows about those and will try to avoid them.

Latex provides end results which are acceptable, typography-wise. Word is merely a word processor and cannot be trusted to produce the actual end result.

No, LaTeX does not know anything about rivers and has no detection mechanisms for them. The line-breaking/spacing algorithms in TeX are just to old for that level of computational intensity.

There are some LuaTeX packages which can detect, but not fix, rivers, though their scalability is questionable.

I enjoyed (at the time) technical writing using WordPerfect, FrameMaker, and InDesign. Getting the typography, page breaks, word wrap just so is very satisfying. Driving FrameMaker was a lot like programming, in the level of control and precision. Still miss it.

I was ambivalent towards PageMaker. Never used Quark for work, though I've met many fans.

I reserve special loathing for Word.

Word 6 was pretty good, and I used it enthusiastically.

But everything since has been user hostile. Getting the document you want is like fighting a surly baboon with Tourette's syndrome. You just have no idea what's going to be printed. There's no way to predict cause and effect (so you end up using a very limited set of features). And god help you if you change anything about your install (eg open the same doc on another computer, upgrade a driver).

Word does just fine, thanks very much. My evidence: the millions of satisfied (or uncaring) Word users.

Word does "just fine" in the same sense that cheap wine or non-DSLR cameras do "just fine" for the majority of people. But that's a separate issue to quality.

Non-sequitur. There are plenty of non-DSLR tools for photography (TLR, rangefinders, large-format film) that are more than "just fine, and even within the world of digital, your average prosumer DSLR can't do the same thing as a setup with a medium format digital back. Give up the snobbery, DSLR does not necessarily equate to quality or superiority.

But most of them do not use it and expect to get good typography. Word is usually used for things where proper typography does not matter, things that in the past were written on type writers.

What are you talking about? Word does not manage spacing (and other layout) on the level LaTeX does. Word processors usually allow you to type multiple adjacent spaces, which does not make any typographic sense. Instead, LaTeX uses spaces of different variable widths and heights. In some configurations, it will follow the double-width space after a sentence-convention.

To my considerable surprise, a convenient sample of older books on my bookshelf tend to confirm the author's contention (year of publication order, all London, see file names for specifics).





Oxford University Press was using single space like spacing around 1950, but I have a travel book about Greece published in 1947 (George Allen Unwin) that still uses a very large space after a full stop.

You can "hide" the space added for justification better between sentences, since most readers would notice and be distracted by too much variable space between letters and words. That looks to be what's happening in some of these.


And frankly, be glad we don't use the traditional caps-only run-everything-together style of yore.



In every discipline, there are those who care too much about such pointless trivialities. I just hope that the author leaves the correct pause at the end of every spoken sentence, too. But I pray that I am not caught up in that conversation!

The author is railing against people who care too much. They are not advocating double space. They are telling the self-important twits who write Salon articles telling everyone how ignorant and stupid two spaces is to Shut the Fuck Up. And telling the rest of us to ignore self-important twits that care too much.

Well, "self-important twits" like myself who care about issues like usability and readability (which the author definitely does not, as evident by the black on gray blogdesign) have the comfortable option to just "shut the fuck up" and don't read people unwilling to deliver on the basics. He who disrespects his readers will get no respect from me.

Do you find it hard to read? The contrast is more than comfortable to my eyes.

Hm. Now it's dark outside and just a small light on, and I have to agree, the contrast is readable. And http://leaverou.github.io/contrast-ratio/#%23222-on-%23d9d9d... agrees. It's a bit greyer though than I prefer.

Black on light grey causes less eyestrain than black on white.


Two problems with that:

1 Monitors vary greatly in their color intensity. 2 For emissive rather than reflective displays (that is, monitors rather than paper), increasing ambient light decreases contrast. I've found a huge number of websites are very unreadable not only on mobile devices (which tend to get used out-of-doors) but on desktop and laptop screens if there's a high level of indoor lighting. Worse if there's low-angle early-morning or late-afternoon sun.

That's why devices have adjustment knobs and settings that let you adjust the contrast, if you're using it in some unusual situation.

I didn't even know this was a thing, but caring passionately how many spaces people put after their sentences is borderline OCD. I'm going to start using double spaces so I know who the crazy people are.

I actually do this, and it's a great lunatic detector.

My grandparents taught me to use "Oxford commas" and double spaces after sentences when I was very young. To me, it looks better on paper that way. I never thought about it until I had a psychotic teacher who actually deducted points for my writing "1, 2, and 3" instead of "1, 2 and 3".

It inspired me to make it a point to include these more archaic practices in my more formal writing. And doing so always flushes out a few grammar lunatics.

The world needs all types of people. Would you really want someone who doesn't care about particulars to be designing a space shuttle?

Not someone who becomes enraged when a coworker violates one of their totally arbitrary particulars. I wouldn't want anyone designing a spaceship to have to function in such an unhealthy work environment.

I eventually noticed that this article practices what it preaches, after reading a few sections. The sentence-spacing is wider than the word-spacing.

I found it easy to read fluently all the way down (this is moderately unusual for me) - with good typographic choices in line length and colour contrast helping.

At the least, I find the author to have some credibility on this subject.

You honestly find 12pt black text on a dark grey background with a measure of 90+ characters to be easy to read?

Fair point; I have set a minimum point size set which also reduces the characters per line.

Regarding black on dark grey: yes, far preferable to black on white.

It's D9D9D9, that's 85% bright. It has plenty of contrast here.

An alien craft slips into orbit around the earth. They intend to invade earth, but they first want to know whether there's a point to conquering us.

One of the aliens picks up a Internet exchange on his superpowerful galactic cyber-terminal. He turns to his companion and says, "I don't know how to tell you this, but they're posting thousands of words discussing whether to use one or two spaces after a period."

The ammonia drains from the other alien's face and he says, "Let's get out of here!"


> The “standard” of one space is maybe 60 years old at the most, with some publishers retaining wider spaces as a house style well into the 1950s and even a few in the 1960s.

This article starts off sounding like it is making an argument against prescriptivists, then claims that older standards are more authoritative?

Why not choose scriptio continua as an even more authoritative style? Or, take a look at the quality of writing in something like Readers Digest from the 1950s, and judge whether the conversational tone is worth emulating.

Regardless, most opinions are probably influenced either by such books as The Mac is not a Typewriter or alternately by a high school typing class that was based on a curriculum for professional secretaries. There were still high schools into the 1990s that taught students about carbon paper.

Even if there is a lot of unmerited arrogance about using a single space after a period, there's a lot of officiousness around a claim that two spaces after a period is "correct". If it is a generational thing between people who went to high school in the 70s and 80s vs 90s and 2000s, then it is also a difference between people who were learning business correspondence compared to people who were learning desktop publishing and web design.

He's not using the existence of double-spacing as a historical standard to argue that double-spacing is correct. He's using the existence of double-spacing as a historical standard to argue that single-spacing isn't the historical standard.

> Readers Digest from the 1950s ... conversational tone

Any examples available of this online? You've got me curious.

Check out:


They would basically re-write/condense articles and stories to an 8th grade reading level, but had a unique way of doing it so that it wasn't patronizing or content free.

It was a really interesting company, they basically had capability similar to what you find in modern advertising/CRM systems to target supplemental publications and other items to magazine subscribers -- in the 1960's!

Nowadays it's a bunch of drivel... stories about angels, inspirational stuff, and military themed stories aimed at old people.

I think they used to be on books.google.com, but here are some issues of Popular Mechanics that can be browsed:


The convention of a 1/3 em space between words, 2/3 after most punctuation, and a full em space after a sentence seems great to me. And I do appreciate a serious piece of pedantry.

It doesn't really help the author's case that they only examples of extra space after a period they have is with justified text. ALL computer software will add extra space after periods in justified text. In flush-left text, 2 spaces after a sentence just looks bad, period.

I also like how the author manually went in and &nbsp;&nbsp; after every period just to make a statement.

For the record, these contrarian articles bother me because I'm a creative director and I have to put up with my underlings showing me HN articles saying that design dogmas like "serif text is easier to read in body copy" and "2 spaces after a period is bad" are WRONG and that I'm not listening to the "facts". The problem? They try to prove me wrong and the results look like shit. The author here tried to prove me wrong, but the result is his typography looks like shit. I hope they're happy!

For centuries typographers clearly thought just the opposite, so you may want to consider the likelihood that your preferences are simply the result of relatively inflexible automatic typesetting replacing more expensive but more flexible manual typesetters during the mid 20th c., not some objective standard.

Double sentence spaces are still entrenched in the legal community, and I think they have a major advantage there: they make it easier to read text with inline citation sentences.

I guess my question is this: Are word processing/page layout programs failing to translate a space after a period to the modern 'em quad' equivalent?

I was under the impression that one single spaced between thins because 'smart' features in text software and with variable width fonts knew how to make spacing variable automatically.

I always understood the "don't use two spaces" exhortation as a standard aimed at getting people to let their software take care of things instead of treating Word or In Design like a typewriter.

`sententious' is a great word. I need to start using it.

Other than that it sounds like a tale from Jonathan Swift. Big or little endian anyone?

The whole discussion is pointless because as soon as you start thinking in spaces, linebreaks and tabs to generate whitespace between objects you're doing it wrong! Change the font, size, weight, line height, etc. and your layout is gone.

Just use LaTeX. Problem solved.

This article is very bitter and inflammatory. In my experience, people only use two spaces after a period because thats what they were taught and are too stubborn to change.

The main typographic case against two spaces after a period is that it breaks up the flow of text and creates rivers inside the text block. Counter space is the most important aspect of a typeface, and by adding two spaces after a period you are breaking the rhythm of the text.

> people only use two spaces after a period because thats what they were taught and are too stubborn to change.

Are you sure it's stubbornness that you're describing? I was taught to use 2 spaces when I was 5 or 6, and in the meantime I have been typing things for the majority of my life. When I pound out two spaces at the end of a sentence it's not out of pride or because I'm consciously thinking about it.

Telling me I'm "too stubborn" to write a single space is like saying I'm too stubborn to change my handwriting or use a Dvorak layout; these things would require conscious effort and attention to things that I am not currently thinking about, or to change what I am writing and this would slow me down. Or, considering how young I was taught, you might as well say I'm "too stubborn" to stop other current habits developed at around the same time, like bathing regularly or brushing my teeth.

Frankly if I have to please folks like you I'd rather just pipe everything I write into sed s/\ \ /\ /g. That way I don't have to drop my productivity by consciously thinking about spacing between sentences. OTOH, not one person has ever mentioned this habit to me, so it must not really be a problem.

Just because you say "I don't think I'm being stubborn" does not make it so. You clearly are. No one claimed bathing or brushing are bad habits that should be changed.

I learned how to type when I was 10 with double spaces after periods. I realized it looked bad/was unnecessary and now I single space. Wasn't very hard to make the conscious effort to change it. /just saying

Sounds like that works for you. I don't think it would work for me. Unlike some in this thread though, I am not going to say that my preferences work for everybody.

I honestly don't know what I expected from programmers discussing typography... so much misinformation in this thread

A: People do it out of stubbornness.

B: I don't think I'm stubborn. I do it totally unconsciously since a very young age and it would be hard for me to change, similar to handwriting. Besides, nobody seems to notice the difference.

A: (Sigh.) Programmers just won't understand...

Sorry, but I see that last reply as neither here nor there. It's actually kind of laughable, like some stereotypical "design-snob" thing to say.

Also, I really just had to give up. There's no point in educating those who are too stubborn to entertain an alternative to what they learned at the age of 5. Why do you think there are still so many racist individuals in the US?

I don't see any support of your position in your comments, just that people who do it differently from you are stubborn and uneducated. (It's very ironic because it doesn't seem like you've considered how it'd be if someone flipped this the other way and directed such comments at you.)

Meanwhile I've typed double spaces for multiple decades and haven't ever had anyone ask me to do it the other way. Seems you've a lot of people to educate.

Without design snobs, programming snobs would never reach the masses.

Design snobs used to have the opposite of the opinion that they have now about after-period spacing, and had valid semantic reasons for having that opinion. People whining about how a wider space after a period is absolutely wrong are more fashion snobs than design snobs.

The article reads like a reasonable response to what is essentially a bullshit rewriting of history.

Now, there are certainly arguments in favor of one space, but "history" is not one of them :)

The argument by typographers has no grounding in history, it's a choice based on preferred visual rhythm.

But as the article points out, the typographers claim otherwise.

Apparently the author is so serious about this that the HTML is full of this things like "lazy standard?&nbsp; Wow.&nbsp; Just wow."

That seems like the wrong way to do it.

The post sentence spacing was never really treated as two consecutive spaces - conceptually, it's a single area of whitespace that is larger than the inter-word spacing.

If you especially cared about typesetting it correctly, you'd use a single &ensp; (or perhaps an &emsp;).

And you'd get your computer to insert the m-spaces for you.

The page actually has a stylesheet which sets white-space: pre-wrap, which tells the browser to preserve the double-spaces. It's like <pre> but with line wrapping enabled.

I want Jasper Fforde to write a book about this... gangs of 14th century typographers rove the Italian cities, always ready to whip out finely-honed copies of LaTex to impale hated rivals and defend family honour. Meanwhile, hermit monks of the order of St. Lancaster toil away at hand-illuminated Postscript documents...

What I want to know is why style guides recommend no space around a slash. To my eye, "either / or" is much more readable than "either/or".

Style guides are arbitrary prescriptions. Why not 2 spaces around a slash? Why not put a space before and after a period? Why not put spaces around parenthesis instead of just before?

My main objection to double space fonts is that if we wanted more space we could easily do it with the kerning tables. To physically have to type two spaces is stupid.

Agreed! This brings back bad memories of "computer teachers" letting you type over stuff from a printed page in Word, forcing you to double-space.

A larger space (em-quad) is not the same as two spaces.

We're talking about visuals here, so how isn't it?

An em space is the width of the letter m. IIRC, a normal space in most proportional fonts is closer to the letter n.

It has always been my understanding that historically, typographers tended to prefer em spaces between sentences (vs. after intra-sentence punctuation like 'Mr.' or a comma). And so, once typewriters with their fixed-width fonts came out¹, people used a double-space at the end of a sentence to approximate an em space.

The frustrating thing, typographically-speaking, is that the HTML approach doesn't map to the manually-typeset process, either, since it doesn't have any semantic knowledge about "end of sentence" vs. "random intra-sentence punctuation" and thus treats them all the same.

(Note that this is also where we get em dashes and en dashes from. And just like em spaces and en spaces, an em dash is transliterated to '--' in fixed-width fonts.)

¹ For all I know, the double-space trick was used with fixed-width letterpress before the advent of typewriters. The problem seems to have more to do with fixed-width than with typewriters.

The thing is that the period on a typewriter will usually be aligned towards the previous letter, so a "period space" sequence on a typewriter will have nearly the same amount of space as would be seen in a "period space space" sequence on a software word processor when not using a fixed-width font. In essence, this furthers the idea that the double space is an emulation of the output of a typewriter, rather than supporting the idea that it's influenced by typesetting (where in the past the space between words might have been 1/3 or 2/3 the width of the space after a period, if no other space was added throughout the sentence for alignment).

For the most part, the article justifies simply blaming publishers for becoming lazy, though it seems to me that they choice of spacing around sentences is largely determined by the market for which something is being published, and most publishers would have invested at some point in a decent lexer that can handle enough of the burden of finding the ends of sentences to allow the process to be largely hands-off (and allow the appearance of the output to change fairly easily if they want to print a special or mass-market edition later).

It's conceptually a single space, but the difference between 'two spaces' and 'a space twice as wide as normal spaces' isn't very important. Since lines won't wrap mid-space-block, it's effectively an encoding issue.

It'd be interesting to get data on this. Thoughts on how that would work? Something like "Take a paragraph, A|B test it on CrowdFlower/Turk with both types of spacing, with the outcome being [?]" Speed? Being able to answer some question at the bottom about some detail in the text? Not sure.

I guess the likely outcome would be that there's no difference. And we'd be stuck in the same place. We'd be better off if everyone used one convention (if multiple people edit a doc, more consistency), but there's not much of a good way to decide on what the convention should be. I suppose that's why these things get so religious in the first place...

Double spaces are a pet peeve of mine. I remove all of them in any document I must edit and I'm quite thorough.

If you see two spaces, you can almost bet that the author is an American and over 40 years old :)

I'm 34 and I do it. I wouldn't have it any other way. Why even have periods if you aren't going to separate sentences with proper distance.

Unix fmt double-spaces after periods, except periods after single letters. Of course, that's only useful to you if you compose text in a text editor, and pipe it through fmt (or par, if you are that picky), before publishing it.

Thanks to HTML, however, you wouldn't know this text, for example, had lines about 72 characters,¹ was carefully hand-justified after fmt(1) to leave no dangling words alone on a line before or after punctuation,² and had double spaces after all periods inside paragraphs, except T and S in T. S. Eliot.

¹ Except the first paragraph, better broken at “letters”, “editor”, and “it”, and this footnote, also broken after “editor”.

² Though I would rather do that than visit violence upon decent sentences, like this one, broke at “sentences”. Obviously it's preferable to expand and contract margins a bit to suit the text. Nobody does this any more though, because auto-sizing to columns destroys manual formatting.³

³ Incidentally, these footnotes had to be separate paragraphs, to keep them from merging with the previous one, and with the body paragraphs. What a piece of work is HTML… it delights not me.

Here is this comment before the autoformatter got to it. https://gist.github.com/catenate/6567903

It seems there are three different use cases. 1) Typing and storing words as plain-text. Two spaces seem unnecessary. 2) Writing a file for pretty printing. LaTeX is an excellect choice, and will probably make a pretty PDF. 3) Display as an HTML webpage. Currently there aren't any good solutions for this, and generally we're trying to make something that either just defaults to 1, or else creates a poor emulation of 2.

It may not be wrong, but it still looks wrong, or antiquated at the very least. Reading a book that still uses extra space after a full stop feels like reading something from the time when it was fashionable to put a space before an exclamation mark or a question mark.

The period alone is enough to indicate a full stop; an extra space is redundant. Like needless words, one should seek to omit needless punctuation wherever possible.


Nice article and nice use of primary sources.

The convention was: put wider spaces than word spaces after punctuation, and put an extra-wide space after a period.

I will try this for two weeks: three spaces after the period; two after the comma, semi-colon and friends. Already, I note a difference. Already do I seek alternate syntax to regulate spacing.

Sorry if my brain is just tired and not parsing correctly, but I'm confused about this:

>Already do I seek alternate syntax to regulate spacing.

Do you mean you want an easier way to create such 1,2,3 spaces, or that it makes you want 1-space-only more than before?

It means, when I add two spaces after a comma, I have increased its visual strength and thus I may choose alternate syntax where I don't want a strong break. eg, "already, I have" -> "already have I". The latter form does feel more old fashioned. Perhaps writers of yesteryear experienced the same effect.

Oh boy, I just wasted 10 mins on reading sides in a debate about typesetting sentences.

The original author's purpose is to set the record straight about history and counter false claims about history to back up one's points in a debate. Period. Full stop. Space. The guy even says that repeatedly in his comments. Get it right :)

I vote whatever is faster to read. Wikipedia claims one study said one space barely, other studies showed no difference. So one space it is, I guess. Don't really care about the history whatsoever.

Arguing with a Slate article is probably the wrong place to start for this discussion. The Wikipedia entry on sentence spacing is probably a tiny bit better.

As much as I'd love to see a properly executed experiment where reading speed, enjoyment and comprehension was evaluated between groups of people reading the same material using single or double spacing after a period, I'm guessing it ultimately it comes down to preference.

If you read the original constitution, there is definitely a longer space after periods (not too many of them not at the end of a line) than between words. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6c/Constitut...

My main issue with double spacing after periods is that people rarely do it consistently. This author, who is in favour of the double space, uses a triple space after a question mark at one point. I always see this happen when I read anything from "double spacers."

Wow, that's some passion there!

I find it ironic that this is the first article I've seen in a long time for which I've had to bring up Safari's reader in order to read comfortably. Black text on a dark-grey background? really?

I know I find it frustratingly obvious that the author has no real grasp of typography just by looking at the text in this article.

&nbsp; has been my friend for years. Its the only way to make the browser give you two spaces between sentences.

Or is there some better way to do it, a setting for an entire paragraph or page? It'd be great to have that.

You can wrap each sentence in <span class="sentence"> ... </span>, then use CSS to apply a style to the sentence class. This may seem complex for such an issue, but it does obey the rule of separating content and style.

Another advantage of this approach is that you can have a JS checkbox on the page so people who feel strongly about this can choose which style they prefer. :)

Creating a sentence class as above does for sentences what <p> ... </p> does for paragraphs.

The author keeps mentioning that "most people", but I can't find where that conclusion comes from.

And arguing that we should use two spaces to replicate a standard of longer spaces is at best a crude approximation.

This is a hilarious debate to read on hn, a veritable shitpile of busy text. Not complaining, I like hn, just saying it's funny. (btw, I'm firmly in the 2 space camp).

One space after periods, then give the period-space pair nice-looking kerning in your typeface. Done.

Doesn't work for abbreviations.

i really love that this is one of those topics that draws scads of comments no matter where it appears.

as if it is important, and everybody's behavior must be rigidly enforced so we'll have complete conformity.


Not sure if serious?

You know how we argue about stuff like bracket styles and virtually identical text editors? Other professions have their own Very Important Debates(TM).

Doesn't typography overlap quite significantly with web design ? Isn't that the profession of many of the people on this site ?

Lack of knowledge of these things is one of the reasons that much of the text people read every day is presented with a system (HTML/CSS) that has complete disregard for typography[1]. Unlike LaTeX for example where you can set your inter sentence spacing to whatever you want, because Knuth took the time to learn about typography and create a system that has the flexibility required to lay out text properly[2].

[1] smallcaps, kerning, spacing, justification, the list goes on and on

[2] for pretty much any value of 'properly' you can imagine

There is however a problem with interactive devices: any type-setting is doomed because the setter has no control on the output.

Knuth could do TeX because the aim is to produce fixed-typed text (barring proportionality). Not so on the Internet. It is not that the web standards despise typography: it is that the web is not a place in which to SET (which implies "fix") types. And that is why it is so hard to get a compelling, attractive web page.

[1]: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/CSS/font-varian... http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-fonts/#font-kerning-prop https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/CSS/word-spacin... https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/CSS/letter-spac... https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/CSS/text-align http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-text/#text-justify0

It's not that HTML/CSS was created with a disregard for typography, it's simply that typography was not the intended purpose of HTML. CSS (and HTML 4 & 5) is largely an attempt to allow principles of typography to be applied to HTML without breaking the original use (after all, LaTeX and typography in general requires a very rigid definition of the output for it to work properly, which you can never have with the browser as your target platform; in itself something very different from what was available when HTML was originally designed).

In principle, there's no reason why web browsers couldn't incorporate the same typesetting algorithms that LaTeX uses. In fact it's quite practical to write a HTML to LaTeX converter and get quite good results out of it (I'm doing this right now).

The only caveat is that you don't get the same level of control that you have with LaTeX, in cases where the default behaviour is different to what you want.

Two spaces is wrong.


yes it's not like it has citations and quotes and everything. It's all just lies!

Can you elaborate?

Sigh... Methinks the author should get a life.

Here's what should really happen: my OS should adjust tracking after periods based on preferred locale. And the same for other typography rules.

Instead, we have broken software that can't get anyone to agree on typography, and anal bloggers who are debating over how we should adapt to our broken software in an age where white space is collapsed anyway courtesy of html.

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