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In English language, is a one-letter word (such as I or a) allowed to be at the end of line? (This question is about a single-letter word within a sentence, placed just before a linebreak.)

For example, is this allowed?

It was a sunny day yesterday, so I
took a sunbath.

In the example, I is at the end of a line of text, just before a linebreak.

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Are you asking if a sentence may end with, say, an 'I'? –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 17 '13 at 10:17
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At the end of a line, or the end of a sentence? –  Andrew Leach Jun 17 '13 at 10:19
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Pardon my ignorance, but is there a language where this is not the case? –  RegDwigнt Jun 17 '13 at 10:29
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@AndrewLeach As I state in the question, "at the end of line". –  Peter Sivák Jun 17 '13 at 10:32
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In the sentence "I like apples." the 'I' is at the beginning. What about at the -end- as you asked for? I'm not asking about the beginning, am I? –  Mitch Jun 17 '13 at 12:15
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes. There is nothing to prevent a single-letter word like I or a from being on its own at the end of a line. Sometimes a text just happens to fall that way.

However, it's bad form in English to split a word in such a way that a single letter ends the line a- lone, with a hyphen.

The Wikipedia article on syllabification provides a clue:

For example, it is not possible to syllabify "learning" as lear-ning according to the correct syllabification of the living language. Seeing only lear- at the end of a line might mislead the reader into pronouncing the word incorrectly, as the digraph ea can hold many different values. The history of English orthography accounts for such phenomena.

Leaving just a single letter on the end of a line, like alone above, slows down the reading more than forcing the whole word on to the next line (perhaps by widening the space between words if the text is fully justified).


I don't know if my contrived text will work on your system, so here's what it should look like:

Text example

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So you say, that a single letter can be at the end of line but a single letter with hyphen cannot? –  Peter Sivák Jun 17 '13 at 11:32
    
There are no rules as such in English typography, but yes. If the single letter is a word on its own, that's fine. If the single letter is part of another word, it's not fine. [There are rules in grammar, of course.] –  Andrew Leach Jun 17 '13 at 11:35
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No. He's saying that a single-letter word (i.e. a word that consists of a single letter, e.g. a, I) can be at the end of a line. But a word that is split over two lines (using a hypen) should not be split so as to leave a single letter at the end of the first line - nor in fact to leave a single letter at the beginning of the second line. –  TrevorD Jun 17 '13 at 11:52
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If the letter is a word, as @EdwinAshworth points out, there is no problem whatsoever. People are used to reading "I" and "A" and, possibly "O", as words and not typos. If the letter represents a letter, though, you might momentarily confuse a reader because they aren't used to seeing it stand alone. For instance, if, at the end of a line of a piece of fiction you were to encounter an R by itself, it might look unattractive, owing to the starkness of it being the last symbol of the line. This could be rectified by capitalizing it, as I have done, or putting it in quotes to clarify that it isn't a typo. It isn't wrong, though, as there is no way to correct for it.

Edit: After google searching "single letters at the end of a line", a pretty generic search, I found quite a few discussions on this topic on typography and programming forums.

From an Adobe forum:

hi helpers, i've been working on a text the client of which wants single-letter words NOT to be at the ends of lines. does ID have any tool to prevent these words from being at the ends of lines? i think that it could be done by inserting non-breaking space after these words, but how to do that without searching them and inserting the space after each manualy (too time consuming...)?

From a LaTex forum:

Hi, is there a way to forbid TeX break lines right after "a" or "of"? Of course, I do put "~" after such words often, but I also often forget to do so. Maybe there is a dictionary of words that are forbidden to appear at the end of a line?

From an apache forum:

In many languages the formal way of presenting text (not many know about this - because of lack of such functionality in other word processors) is that there cannot be any "single letter" words at the end of a line (Polish is one of the examples).

These all suggest stylistic preferences, and I would say these discussions are analogous to the way typesetters avoid widows and orphans. In over ten years of writing for English newspapers, I've never been prompted to avoid ending lines with a single letter word. Apparently, though, it is very common to avoid it in certain Eastern European language typographies: Polish, Slavak, and Czech, for example.

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It's perfectly possible to force a single letter like your R to appear at the start of the next line rather than the end of a line. –  Andrew Leach Jun 17 '13 at 11:03
    
@AndrewLeach: I was trying to force it to the end of the line, which is why the sentence got so wordy. –  tylerharms Jun 17 '13 at 11:32
    
Yes (although it doesn't look like that on my system). What I meant was there are ways of correcting for a single letter on the end of a line if you want to do that -- with expanded word- or letter-spacing, or in HTML with a non-breaking space after it. –  Andrew Leach Jun 17 '13 at 11:39
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Just for completeness' sake, the standard shortcut key to insert a non-breaking space in MS Word is CTRL + SHIFT + SPACE. –  Peter Sivák Jun 17 '13 at 12:01
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@tylerharms His website (linked from his profile page) says "Language Skills: Slovak (mother tongue), Speaking – native, Writing – native; English, Speaking – intermediate, Writing – advanced; German, Speaking – basic, Writing – basic." –  TrevorD Jun 17 '13 at 12:34
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Yes, one-letter word is allowed to be at the end of line.

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