I remember reading somewhere that if a unit is abbreviated as one character, there must not be a space between the number and the unit (e.g., 5m, 26K). If the unit is abbreviated as two or more Characters, there must be a space between the number and the unit (e.g., "10 km", "USD 5").

  • Can you please help me find the source again?
  • Is this recommendation correct?
  • 3
    Nitpick: you probably meant "10 km" (if it's about kilometres) – Jonik Sep 11 '10 at 17:52
up vote 25 down vote accepted

If you're typesetting SI units, it seems logical to follow the conventions of the Bureau international des poids et mesures. From the SI Brochure, §5.3.3:

The numerical value always precedes the unit, and a space is always used to separate the unit from the number. (…) The only exceptions to this rule are for the unit symbols for degree, minute, and second for plane angle, °, , and , respectively, for which no space is left between the numerical value and the unit symbol.

§5.3.7 goes on to say that “When it is used, a space separates the number and the symbol %.”

In practice, it is quite common to see non-alphabetic units such as % and °C typeset without an intervening space. I've never seen a rule that distinguished between single-letter units and longer units.

Note that the rule doesn't specify how wide the space should be. Some references recommend a normal inter-word space, while others recommend a thin space. In any case, the space is nonbreakable.

These rules need not apply to currencies, especially when they are written before the number. Specifying that single-character currencies don't take a space ($42, £42, €42) while multiple-character currencies do (AUD 42, A$ 42) doesn't feel completely outlandish, maybe that's what you remember?

In Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing:

  • When symbols are used, the prefix symbol and unit symbols are run
    together:

    5 cm
    7 hL
    4 dag
    13 kPa
    
  • When a symbol consists entirely of letters, leave a full space between
    the quantity and the symbol:

    45 kg not 45kg
    
  • When the symbol includes a non-letter character as well as letter, leave no space:

    32°C not 32° C or 32 °C
    

However, the International System of Units, or SI, requires a space to be used to separate the unit symbol from the numerical value, and this also applies to the symbol for the degree Celsius, as 32 °C. The only exceptions to this rule in the SI are for the symbols for degree, minute and second for plane angle, as 30° 22′ 8″. Wikipedia's style guide also follows the SI standard.

  • For the sake of clarity, a hyphen may be inserted between a numeral and a symbol used adjectivally:

    35-mm film
    60-W bulb
    

However, some other style guides, including Wikipedia's, deprecate hyphenation in these cases. The SI allows a hyphen between the numeral and the unit only when the name of the unit is spelled out, as 35-millimetre film.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_%28punctuation%29#Spaces_and_unit_symbols

  • How does "When symbols are used, the prefix symbol and unit symbols are run together" fit with the listed examples (that contain numbers)? – Peter Mortensen Oct 20 '17 at 7:31
  • 1
    @PeterMortensen Prefix symbol and unit symbol in this context mean things like c and m to make cm. – Williham Totland Jan 5 at 14:09

The non-working link above for "Quantity-unit spacing for adjectives" can be viewed through the Wayback Machine at this link.

  • 2
    Maybe edit that post to make that contribution? – Drew Apr 29 '17 at 20:42
  • Hey Drew. Revisionist editing of another user's posts strikes me as something that should only be done in very rare situations and that would often cause problems (I'm actually surprised to see it's possible, rather than, say, restricted to "administrators" [whatever they call users with higher permissions on this site, which is new to me and certainly up my alley]). Doing so here, for example, would strand abalter's comment. – Fuhghettaboutit Apr 29 '17 at 20:56
  • 1
    My suggestion is to leave the original link, add a mention that you find that it no longer works, and provide the wayback link as a workaround. I suggest you do that either by editing that answer or in a comment to that answer. (Not to mention that your new answer is now above, not below, the link and answer you are, in effect, commenting on, which you call a "link above".) – Drew Apr 29 '17 at 21:05
  • Then our screens show this page in an opposite order, since my post is immediately below the one is refers to as above it, already transparently refers to the link being dead, I obviously already planned to "leave the original link" and I provide the working link, so why would I do so again? All that is to say, I don't understand what you're talking about. – Fuhghettaboutit Apr 30 '17 at 14:04
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    @Fuhghettaboutit What Drew is suggesting is standard Stack Exchange practice. Stack Exchange has a Q&A format, not a typical discussion thread format. New answers should contain substantive content that's not available in preexisting answers, and should not be minor corrections or responses to other answers. Also, answers are ordered by score, not chronologically, and the order can change. Updating a dead link or providing an additional link to the same information should be an edit or a comment, not a new answer. Since you don't have the rep to comment, you should submit a suggested edit. – Adi Inbar Jun 27 '17 at 19:07

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