Text to the left is said to be "leading" the text to our right, and text to the right is said to be "trailing" the text to our left. We also say the text to our left is "in front of" the text to our right.

I'm not sure I've ever heard someone say the text to our right is "behind" the text to our left, and I don't know if when someone says the text to the left is "before" the text to the right, means it as "coming sooner" or "is in front of".

Anyway, this paints the picture of characters having fronts pointing to the left and moving forward to my left. Why is this? Why would characters have fronts and move and move leftwards?

EDIT: Here are some examples (EDIT 3: To further clarify, these are not questions I'm making, these are examples I've found on the SE network of usages of the terms I'm asking for):

EDIT 2: Just to clarify. This question has nothing to do with shapes. I'm asking about why text has a sense of direction that faces leftwards.

  • 2
    This has absolutely nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of the English language, and it applies to any left-to-right language using the Latin alphabet.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 22:50
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach I just checked with my spanish-speaking co-workers and they have no idea what it means for one word to be "in front of" another or "leading" or "trailing" another. This seems to be a feature of english.
    – JoL
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 22:53
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach I've added some examples. The last paragraph is the question. If I remove it then it wouldn't be a question. How would you like me to revise?
    – JoL
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 23:08
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach I'm not talking about shapes. I'm using "face" to make sense of "in front of". Like something "in front of" a building is so because it's next to the "face" of the building. Would it be better to switch "face" for "front"?
    – JoL
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 23:19
  • 3
    My house has a front and a back, but that does not at all imply that it is moving. It has a front because that is the way from which it is normally approached to enter into it, not because that is the way it is moving. Letters (and words, paragraphs, pages etc.) can be in front or behind others because that is the way we read them. Specifically, you will read this letter “a” before you read this letter “b”, so the “a” is in front of the “b”. Naturally the whole text will have a sense of direction that faces left because that is the way text is meant to be read (from left to right).
    – user252684
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 23:41

1 Answer 1


Text layout:

  • A leading space= whitespace in front of a printed word or text.
  • A trailing space= whitespace after a word or at the end of printed text.

leading and trailing spaces in Microsoft Word

This idea of leading and trailing spaces comes from airfoil terminology where a wing on a plane is said to have a leading and trailing EDGE. The leading edge is the edge that faces into the wind and the trailing edge is obviously the other edge that does not face the wind and onto which the wind is swept over as the plane moves forward. I can't prove that but I can see no other origin from this idea.

leading space

BUT CAREFUL: In typography, leading (/ˈlɛdɪŋ/ LED-ing) refers to the distance between the baselines of successive lines of type. [taken from Wikipedia]

Pronunciation: A leading space is not the same pronunciation as leading, the distance between baselines of text. Leading is like the word metal. A leading space is like leader.

Example of leading from Adobe's InDesign:

enter image description here

Explanation from Adobe:

The vertical space between lines of type is called leading. Leading is measured from the baseline of one line of text to the baseline of the line above it. Baseline is the invisible line on which most letters—that is, those without descenders—sit.

The default auto-leading option sets the leading at 120% of the type size (for example, 12‑point leading for 10‑point type). When auto-leading is in use, InDesign displays the leading value in parentheses in the Leading menu of the Character panel.

leading from Adobe

Leading, the space from one baseline of type to another, is standard for a size of typeface: 12-point; 14-point, etc.. BUT: you can increase and decrease it for effect. Most people think that in Microsoft Word only the number of line returns will increase or decrease white space between lines. That is not true. You can also increase and decrease the leading but Microsoft no longer calls it that. They call it: line spacing. And you can see it here: Microsoft line spacing, aka leading If you look in the Adobe example, you will see that the letters A, B and C mark three different leadings (spaces between baselines of the printed lines)

Whitespace Whitespace refers to the empty space around objects or text, and can take the form of margins, padding, or just an uncluttered area. It creates a pleasing visual experience and can even draw attention to text. In the first box below, the text is crammed against the bounding box, making it hard to read. In the second box, the text has breathing room and the design even looks more stylish.

Basic typographical terms

Also: Computer language:

In computer programming, white space is any character or series of characters that represent horizontal or vertical space in typography. When rendered, a whitespace character does not correspond to a visible mark, but typically does occupy an area on a page. For example, the common whitespace symbol U+0020 SPACE (HTML ), also ASCII 32, represents a blank space punctuation character in text, used as a word divider in Western scripts.

whites space character

I will not bother with a reference for: write a lead, which is a journalistic term and does not have anything to do with what I explained above. A lead is the first sentence in a news article.

  • 1
    I would guess we had leading and trailing text long before we had airplanes
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 4:28
  • You might want to review spaces and how they were made prior to software doing it all. widespacer.blogspot.com/2012_12_13_archive.html
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 13:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.