Whatever happened to …

… two spaces after a period?

This whole issue has typically gone away from my mind by every now and again someone makes it return.  This time around, it was Cyndie Jacobs who somehow dug up this story.

Last human to use two spaces after a full stop dies

(Warning:  language)

Of course, readers of this blog who scrutinize my every keystroke knows that this is fake news.  I’m still here typing.

Here’s a nice descriptor of the situation and, despite some knowledge, it does predate typewriters.  It’s not just for periods (full stops) but two spaces were required after a question mark and exclamation mark at the end of sentences.  Plus, if you were using a colon in your typing, it was expected there are well.

I can remember us questioning it at the time and not getting a really good answer other than “it’s a typing error if you don’t use a double space”.  So, we did it because to not do so lowered your words per minute score.  It seemed like a small price to pay.

There have been all kinds of attempts at explaining why – I’m sure that you’ve heard them – typewriters used mono-spaced fonts and today’s computers typically use proportional fonts.  It’s an interesting comparison but doesn’t really explain a significant really why.

After all, you can still use a mono-spaced font if you want.

But just the difference in font really doesn’t give a satisfactory reason.  I maintain that it’s an excuse given by people who didn’t take formal keyboard training to rationalize their shortcoming!  The double space even has a purpose on today’s smartphone where it generates a period and a space automatically so that you can move to the next sentence.

I’ve always double-spaced and continue to do so.  Quite frankly, this blogger makes lots of mistakes and kind-hearted souls have pointed them out but nobody has ever complained that I use two spaces after a period.  By the way, this really isn’t a call to action.

For a Sunday, where do your feelings lie?

  • one space or two after a period or sentence ending punctuation
  • do you have a strong opinion one way or the other?
  • why is it incorrect to use the left thumb to tap the space bar?  (I seriously would like an answer to this one)
  • does your keyboard have a shiny spot centre right on the space bar where your right thumb hits the space bar and the rest of your space bar is factory fresh?

Screenshot 2018-07-19 at 15.37.47

I hope that you have fun with this one and share your thoughts.  Plus, if you feel strongly one way or the other, give us your best rationale in the comments below.  Go ahead and try to convince me that I’m yet again wrong.

9 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Doug, until you pointed it out to me, I never realized that you double spaced after a period. Then it was all I could see. Anyone else feel like that? I was taught to do this double space, but it never felt comfortable to me. When single spacing became accepted, it also became my preferred option. I still type with just a few fingers (even at about 80-100 words a minute), so maybe one space feels better based on my hunt and peck approach. 🙂 I’m curious to hear what others think.



  2. Well, this one’s going to be fun!

    So. I fall into the category of people who did not take typing in high school. My father suggested that any other credit would be more useful, and so I graduated with 12 OAC credits: all three maths, all three sciences, two English, French, three music. No typing, although I had taken the lone “computer math” course in grade 11.

    My father taught me all I needed to know in the early years about typing. I started off on using a manual, portable Smith Corona (circa 1940s) with a red/black ribbon, and quickly learned my dad’s “Columbus Method,” as he called it. (That’s the one where you spot a key and land on it.) The Columbus Method was highly efficient, requiring only two fingers, and before I graduated high school I was successfully operating an IBM Selectric with correction tape!

    That lone computer math course gave me “previous programming experience” in first year university, where I must confess I struggled with semi-colons — not with the lack of two spaces after them, but rather with whether they were present or not. A single overlooked semi-colon would generate an error causing your program to fault. I don’t put that down to not having formal keyboarding experience, and as you say, the number of spaces after semicolons (or spaces in general) were a non-issue in programming. In this day and age, block-based coding (which can stick in any requisite semicolons for you) is a great step forward in helping with computational thinking and not getting kids caught up on punctuation.

    I recall spending some time with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing after I purchased my first Mac, but I can’t remember whether it pushed two spaces after a period or not. It wasn’t until I was supporting our district Grade 4 ALMENA keyboarding initiative that I was pressed to upgrade my touch-typing skills. To be honest, it took about two weeks during the summer holidays—and the most significant strategy was not looking at the keys! I guess that’s why typing classrooms in the olden days had blank keys. (We just taught the kids with tea towels over their keyboards.)

    So, all of that, and I still don’t know when I first encountered the two spaces versus one space dilemma. I do know that at some point I learned that the convention was to put two spaces after the sentence-ending punctuation, and so I started doing that. It didn’t take long to get into that habit.

    However, I also remember subsequently reading an article (was it long enough ago that it was in print, or did I read it on the Internet?) that print media were moving to one space after the sentence-ending punctuation as a cost saving measure. Apparently, all of those extra spaces were making it harder to fit the text into the available space, and that this would help keep print media competitive. OK, so the convention changed, and I shifted back to a single space.

    Now, two things in closing:

    1) As for only using the right side of the space bar, what’s up with that? If the designers of typewriters only wanted you do use the right thumb for spacing, then why did they design the space bar to stretch all the way across so that you can get it with both thumbs? Never heard of it. Maybe it was a thing to keep your left thumb available to unscrew the lid of your white-out bottle?
    2) I do a lot of my typing these days with my voice. When I punctuate (“period, “exclamation mark”), the computer/tablet/phone automatically puts a single space after the sentence ending punctuation. Again, it appears that the convention today is a single space after the period, and so that’s what I tend to look for when I am reviewing my written work.

    Happy typing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The double space (made with a left thumb) is just the way Mavis Beacon wanted it. She had the luxury of living before the Internet had everyone asking why and expecting an answer. I doubt she ever provided one. I, for one, have made such a habit of double spacing after end punctuation that I’ll never change. I do, however, sometimes have to remove that extra space in report card comments in order to fit a few more words.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I took grade 9 typing (manual typewriter) and grade 10 typing (electric typewriter) because my mother insisted that typing was a skill that would be useful no matter what I ended up doing for a living. We learned to type on typewriters that had blank keyboards. There was a pull down ‘map’ of the keyboard at the front of the classroom where you looked to see where the letters were, which was a great way to learn how to type without looking at the keyboard. I was a terrible typist and begged my mom to let me drop typing because it was killing my overall grade average. Instead we went to Chatham and bought a refurbished typewriter so I could practice at home. She was an amazing typist and couldn’t understand how I was struggling to master something that was as easy as breathing for her. Now I’m glad I have this skill. As usual, mom was right.
    I was taught to use two spaces at the end of a sentence and I still struggle to use only one when requested by certain publishers. I also only use the right thumb for the space bar. I don’t know why we were taught that but it stuck. Trying to use the space bar with my left thumb feels really weird. Can’t do it!


  5. Good, fun discussion! Have to say, Doug, I somehow assumed you were in the “one space camp”. How did I miss that?! I doubt I will ever be able to stop my double space habit (yes, Gr. 9 and 10 typing class). A quick poll with my family just confirmed we are all double-spacers, the 20 year olds included.

    I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I will read a writer’s work without noticing, obviously 🙂 I do wonder if I might be judged in this regard when I publish a post or write comments online. But I let that concern go quite quickly.

    My keyboard’s space bar is shinier on the left — a long oval mark as compared to a small circle on the right. I wasn’t aware of a rule in that regard either.

    Long live….


  6. one space or two after a period or sentence ending punctuation

    I was trained for two, and I believe it makes for better readability. You can more easily see where the end of the sentence is coming up, especially helpful when reading aloud.

    do you have a strong opinion one way or the other?

    Two spaces is “correct.”

    why is it incorrect to use the left thumb to tap the space bar? (I seriously would like an answer to this one)

    I was never trained in traditional typing however, so for me anything goes. Who is anyone else to say “you can’t?”

    does your keyboard have a shiny spot centre right on the space bar where your right thumb hits the space bar and the rest of your space bar is factory fresh?

    No shiny spots, but I think I tend to hit closer to the middle anyway.


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