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I was reading a manual discussing about how a sentence should be properly ended by convention. Here I quote:

you follow the American typist's convention of putting two spaces at the end of a sentence. That is, a sentence ends wherever there is a ‘.’, ‘?’ or ‘!’ followed by the end of a line or two spaces, with any number of ‘)’, ‘]’, ‘'’, or ‘"’ characters allowed in between.

-Reference

I was not in American area and I study English as a second language. I have never heard about such convention before. Therefore I am a bit curious of how widely this convention is used.

Since the mentioned section of this manual was discussing about human language. It seems relevant to ask here.

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This convention is obsolete because monospaced typewriters are no longer used. –  Peter Shor Aug 19 at 3:23
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That's funny. When I was taught this in school (in the US), I remember being told it was a French convention. –  KitFox Aug 19 at 3:30
    
No no, @Kit, that's a British clothing brand. –  George Pompidou Aug 19 at 3:35
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@KitFox One space after a period is "French spacing", two spaces is "English". See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentence_spacing –  augurar Aug 19 at 6:35
    
I encountered this in the 1970s when I took the (British) Pitman's typewriting course. I continued to put two spaces after a full stop when I went onto word-processing in the 1980s. It wasn't until the 1990s that I realised that nobody was using the double space any more for word processing. –  Peter Aug 19 at 8:39

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As Peter Shor indicates in a comment, the "two spaces after end punctuation" rule is a relic from the days of monofont typewriters: To help readers of text set in such type recognize sentence breaks more easily—and perhaps to give the finished page a bit of visual variety in a layout constrained by monofont uniformity—some style guides in those days recommended adding a second space after each sentence in each paragraph.

I first encountered this style guideline at the student newspaper for the very small college I attended in the 1970s. We typed all of the text for it on manual Olympia typewriters that seemed to be made of cast iron and looked as though they had survived battlefield use during World War II.

My last and most horrific brush with the rule came in 1996 at a fairly fancy startup magazine that used Quark (at the time the most sophisticated publishing software available). Our designer had set up all of the specifications for font type, font size, letter spacing, etc., and the higher-ups had approved them all. But on the last weekend before the first issue went to press, our CEO showed up, examined the page proofs, and decided that the text looked too cramped. His solution: Add another letter space at the end of each sentence—just as if we were working in monofont.

Since our magazine was full of abbreviations that ended in periods, we couldn't just run a universal search-and-replace using ". [+ one space]" and ". [+ two spaces]"; instead, I had to go through the entire issue, adding a second letter space after each sentence. It took hours.

As far as I know, that magazine in 1996 was the last commercial consumer publication in the United States to enforce the two-space rule. I certainly hope so.

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what a great anecdote. I actually don't know if typical modern "everywhere" typesetting (for example, UIWebView which we are all looking at currently, when looking at this page) makes the gap after a period bigger than the gap after a comma, or just between two words. I just dunno. It's hard to really tell just by looking at the page here. –  Joe Blow Aug 19 at 8:56

Just for the record on this nice and historic question, I will go ahead and say that:

In the (today extremely unusual) circumstance that you are using a monospaced fount, I'd suggest really it is probably better to continue with the two space rule.

Recalling that, the very reason for the two-space approach is/was simply for clarity:

Examples could include:

(1) You're an art director, and you're making a poster that features a sentence fragment in "old-fashioned broken typewriter look" (so, it's a "crime novel look"). In this case you should do it because, well, that's how typewritten pages look.

(2) In the very unusual circumstance of writing computer code. The comments (ie, English human-language sentences in the code) are, indeed, in monospaced fount. FWIW I'd point out that, thus, it's better to use the double-space in such writing. (Indeed, this is a good example where clarity is everything.) for example FWIW I do this and all employees have to. It would be difficult to say if this is "common with programmers over 30" but anyone who's used to typing monospaced, this would be the only (I can think of) present situation where it still happens.

Example!

enter image description here

You could click to say github to find swathes of example computer code in various computer languages.

(An interesting aside there is that conventions like capitals appear to have fallen by the wayside, but the double-space remains a good sentence clarifier.)

Note - perhaps someone else can think of another example where, today, one actually writes in monospace. Even text-messages, say, are now flawlessly typography'ed.

(3) If you are - say - a spy, or in general, for some reason you are writing a message on a monospaced system (so, you're a spy sneaking a message out using an old typewriter), I encourage you to use the double-spacing, again simply for clarity and decisiveness - you don't want a comma even possibly confused with a point. (I guess in old-fashioned telegrams using "STOP" is the extreme way to clarify sentences.)

Finally I point out that when handwriting with a pen or pencil - of course, extremely few people now handwrite multi-sentence messages for any reason - I observe that it is common (english speakers, writing) to leave a fairly substantial gap between sentences, much bigger than the word gap. So, there's kind of an analogy.

(On that note the only human being I have heard of who handwrites today, is the popular author Neal Stephenson who apparently writes by hand when writing a ms. one could sift through his paper ms and see if he leaves a bigger gap!) Thanks for the great question!

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A further data point: I'm a programmer over 30, I don't use a double-space sentence break in monospaced comment text, and none of my employers has ever required it in that context. However, due mostly to a laughably poor "typesetting toolchain", my current employer does mandate a double space in its style guide for non-code. This is not uncontroversial. –  Steve Jessop Aug 19 at 9:21
    
heh fascinating Steve! (by non-code you mean, just, eg documentation, letters etc?) –  Joe Blow Aug 19 at 9:24
    
My employer is a consultancy, so it's mostly for reports, briefs, etc., to clients. It would apply to letters if they were written in the house style, but (to the extent we ever write letters) I don't think they are. Thankfully, our code documentation is not written in the house style, so the issue hasn't arisen for that. I never actually write anything in the style myself, aside from anything else the software with all the necessary templates and examples is Mac-only and I don't have one :-) I think we freely admit that our current approach won't scale indefinitely. –  Steve Jessop Aug 19 at 9:26
    
... I just mention it to highlight that there's a difference between how things should be (double-space is a monospace workaround as you describe) and how things actually are (double-space is a workaround for other environments with limited typesetting capability too)! Ideally, Mr. Blow, software should be able to leave a larger gap at the end of a sentence than it does following other period characters, just like handwriters and manual typesetters do. But ideally the difference between the two cases shouldn't be indicated using two space characters. –  Steve Jessop Aug 19 at 9:29
    
right! just tbc, the only place I can think of where, these days, we still use monospace, and we still look at the results in monospace, is in the comments in computer code! perhaps someone else can think of another situation where we still use monospace and see the results in monospace? –  Joe Blow Aug 19 at 9:36

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