Sarah Stultz: Should it be one space or two after a period?

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Nose for News by Sarah Stultz

Every once in a while here at the Tribune and at other places throughout the community, random grammatical or punctuation debates surface. 

This week I was made aware of a debate that had emerged about whether to put one space or two spaces after a period. 

As a 38-year-old, I grew up being taught to put two spaces after a period in all of my papers. 

I’m not sure when that changed — I think it might have been college — when what I had known for a long time changed, and one space was the new norm. 

In Associated Press Style, which we aim to follow for the newspaper, the listing is pretty cut and dry: “Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence.”

Pretty much every major style guide out there — MLA Handbook, The Chicago Manual of Style, APA Style, etc. — now follows the same. 

According to the research I’ve found, the former rule of having two spaces after a sentence originates with the printing press and then the typewriter. Typesetters needed to show the difference in space between words compared to space between sentences. 

In the 19th century, sentences were separated by white space equivalent to the width of an em dash — often referred to as an em space. 

When the typewriter was invented, the em space was impractical as typewriters had one font, and all of the letters took up the same amount of space. To solve the spacing issue, typists began putting two spaces at the end of a sentence, and this rule continued for many years, even in the beginning age of computers. 

As technology progressed and word processing programs began offering more fonts, each of these fonts is programmed to space letters proportionally and in turn give the appropriate amount of space between sentences. 

As a result, the new norm, the one-space rule, became a reality and is, in fact, the preferred rule these days. 

Some of the websites I visited surrounding this issue said these days the issue is one that is often generational, with many in the older generation holding firm to the two-space rule, while the younger generations stand by the one space. 

Which do you prefer? 

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.