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In written English (mainly online) I often come across sentences ending with a question or an exclamation mark with a space before it. Is it always just an error or a typo? Or there are cases when it is a correct English, for example after closing parentheses or some other punctuation marks?

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    It's a common typo by French (because in French, there is a white space before a question/exclamation mark) and Indians (because I have no idea why and would like to know myself). In English, there is traditionally no white space. In online context, it would be especially perilous, because most people don't know about   and/or have no control over the actual HTML source code, and you don't want to constantly end up with question/exclamation marks being printed on the next line.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 2, 2010 at 15:52
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    As a special case, please do put a space before the punctuation when ending a sentence with a hyperlink or similar so it will be easier to select, and so automatic hyperlink creation won't gobble it. Instead of "Try asking on english.stackexchange.com." (results in a broken link), say "Try asking on english.stackexchange.com ." I do this as a courtesy to others, even if it's breaking the rules a bit.
    – Joey Adams
    Jun 24, 2011 at 23:38
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    @Joey Adams: Would that be a hyperspace? Nov 27, 2012 at 22:07
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    @Reg, in most Indian schools, English grammar is taught from a book that was originally authored by two Englishmen: PC Wren and H Martin. The earlier editions of the book (including the one that I own) has a space before the following punctuation marks are used: question mark, exclamation mark, dash (em dash), colon and semi-colon. Also, one can observe two spaces after a full-stop (or a "period" as the Americans call it). My guess is that such practice is a relic of the typewriter era. The new editions of "Wren & Martin Grammar Book" (as it is known in India) appear not to have such spaces.
    – user36421
    Jan 25, 2013 at 10:07
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    @AnIndianGuy excellent. Very useful information, I always wondered that. Thank you so much for sharing.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 25, 2013 at 10:34

6 Answers 6

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In English, it is always an error. There should be no space between a sentence and its ending punctuation, whether that's a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark. There should also be no space before a colon, semicolon, or comma. The only ending punctuation mark that sometimes needs to be preceded by a space is a dash.

I see this error most often with people who never really learned to type. In handwriting, spacing is more, um, negotiable and subject to interpretation.

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    @Atømix, the double space is a typographical convention, of doubtful utility these days. But in any case, it's irrelevant to this question.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 2, 2010 at 16:25
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    It's a little bit sweeping to say that it is "always" an error. It's arguable an error IF the writer wanted to adopt the most common convention in English, which is to not put the space. And it's an error if their editor/style guide explicitly instructed them to do so and they are compelled to follow that editor/style guide. But otherwise if a writer actively decides they want to adopt the French convention of putting the space, although unusual, they're presumably free to do so. Nov 27, 2012 at 21:32
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    @NeilCoffey, show me a single reputable modern English style guide that allows a space before a period. I don't think you can find one. French usage is totally irrelevant: in English, you don't put a space before a period. Ever.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 28, 2012 at 16:42
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    @NeilCoffey, there's no law or compulsion that says you can't use the word "horse" to mean what other people call "coffee". But it would still be an error of English usage to do that.
    – The Photon
    Aug 10, 2013 at 17:32
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    @WayfaringStranger, that's a bit, uh, contrived.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 20, 2013 at 15:18
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People have mentioned in the comments that, yes, in the past, a small (non-breaking) space was inserted before an ! and a ? These must never start a new line. The space is also a small space, very clearly much more than the space between letters of a word, but much less than a sentence-ending space.

See, for example, this:

enter image description here

And:

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From an 1899 edition of Ralph T. H. Griffith's The Texts of The White Yajurveda. (Link)

This is by no means current practice, as Marthaª's answer explains and I suppose the answer to the question 'is it ever correct ...' is no. But was it ever correct? Yes, very much so.

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    Is this not just a side effect of printing and the type having a space in it? Jan 2, 2017 at 22:58
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    The type didn't have to have a space — look at the commas and periods. It is clearly intentional.
    – mattdm
    Nov 19, 2019 at 8:08
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The Chicago Manual of Style recommends a nonbreakable space before and after an ellipsis when the intention is to trail off a sentence.

13.52 Ellipses with other punctuation. Placement of the other punctuation depends on whether the omission precedes or follows the mark; when the omission precedes it, a nonbreakable space should be used between the ellipsis and the mark of punctuation to prevent the mark from continuing over to the beginning of a new line.

This is a specific instance, and Chicago is one of two accepted style guides for (most) American publishing.

"You stop right there! When I get a hold of you, I'll ... !"

"Do you want to, you know ... ?"

There is so much to love about fudge ... . [I feel the ellipsis before a period is the weakest example because it's arguable whether the ellipsis should come before or after the period, if at all.]

A nonbreakable space is still a space.

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    Interesting. Spacing around ellipses seems to be quite variable between different style guides, if the answers to the following question (and linked questions) are to be believed: Space before three dots? Apparently Robert Bringhurt advises against using spacing when the ellipsis is followed by another punctuation mark: Spaces for Ellipses
    – herisson
    Jun 23, 2016 at 5:07
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    I believe it to be a typesetting issue and thus highly variable. However, the US is increasingly following Chicago. Certainly one would never be wrong adhering to their guidelines (within the US).
    – Stu W
    Jun 23, 2016 at 5:14
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When you end a sentence with a link

In modern usage, especially online, one time where it is appropriate to put a space is when you are ending the sentence with a link https://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/15226/should-a-sentence-ending-with-a-url-terminate-with-a-period .

Stack Exchange's parser is pretty good (because of how you use Markup) but on many other sites, especially where the text editor automatically linkifies for you put a space in can be the difference between your link working or not.

This is a minor exception though, and really you should probably restructure your sentence so it doesn't end in a link, leaving @Marthaa with the more correct answer.

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In many cases, it is essential for readability to put a space before an exclamation mark! Not there but here's an example: lol ! Due to the font, the space is in fact not needed there, but many fonts leave an L looking too much like an ! to be readable.

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    You have correct intuition that this is more of a typography than a correct language usage question. In the "lol !" case, the space is just a hack, better kerning is the real solution.
    – dbkk
    Jul 8, 2012 at 11:00
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    This does not match actual English convention. Oct 2, 2012 at 7:12
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    I usually give conventions a miss. Especially if there's a decent ball game on at the same time. Jan 25, 2013 at 11:28
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The best, perhaps only, reason for one space between end of sentence and its punctuation is for the !, following upright fonts resembling too closely the ! itself. Only other occurrence would be typographical error. Readability trumps convention.

Written language convention mutates. Consider Webster. Allow brief, supporting narrative: I'm a journalist and an English teacher who now abides my students using ONE space between manuscript sentences--not the conventional, PROPER, two. I don't expect generations born into texting, IMs, emails, all things digital, to embrace tradition. With discussion and exposure, on-line users might accept an intentional, rare space before the !. Now, I'll go read "tips on writing great answers." No, we don't always read manuals before assembly . . . .

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    How in the world can you tell how many spaces they use in their handwriting?
    – tchrist
    Nov 27, 2012 at 21:20
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    I use the flexi-space, where a gap contains exactly the number of unit spaces I intend it to (on that day). The idea came to me after reading Alice . Jan 25, 2013 at 11:26
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    It is not now, nor has it ever been, proper to use two spaces after a sentence in the English language in handwriting or typography (magazines, newspapers, etc). For a brief period it was accepted from typewriter written material because typewriters had an interesting quirk that they had to use a fixed width font so they wouldn't jam. Fixed-width fonts looked awkward without the extra space. Unfortunately, those that learned to type during this era mistakenly thought that was proper English. Jan 30, 2013 at 19:13
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    @ThinkingStiff: Wrong. Please read this article: Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history)
    – herisson
    Jun 23, 2016 at 0:39

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