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For many years (decades at this point), I've noticed that, at least in plaintext environments, "serious" and/or "old-timer" people seem to always type like this:

This is a sentence.  And here comes another one.  Shockingly, this is a third sentence, right after the first two.  And even a fourth!

I've always typed like this instead:

This is a sentence. And here comes another one. Shockingly, this is a third sentence, right after the first two. And even a fourth!

Comparing the two, I can easily see why the first one is done: it's way easier to read, and I'm annoyed by myself for not seeing it sooner. I'm heavily leaning toward starting to do this all the time now, but as you can tell, my fingers aren't naturally inclined to make two spaces after each sentence. Even though it looks much better, it doesn't feel more correct while inputting text. At least not for me.

(Now I'm going to really make an effort to do it.) You might counter with: "Well, you are just not used to it! It will soon feel natural!" That may be, but an obvious problem then arises whenever you are not typing in a "plaintext" environment, and it suddenly makes two spaces unnecessarily because the word processor or whatever already takes care of setting a little margin for each sentence. So then you have to switch back and forth between these different ways of typing, which is confusing.

I'm basically wondering where and when this started and if it's still recommended. I'm going to try to force myself to do it. I don't want the sentences to blend together for my readers.

It should be noted that if such a CSS property exists, I don't know what it's called. I can't recall seeing "automatic margin" in between sentences in HTML -- only at the beginning for a paragraph, like this:

<p>This is a demo.</p>

Rendered as:

  This is a demo. Here goes more text until a linebreak
and notice how this row is two spaces to the left of th
e first line, which has two spaces added before it begi
ns. However, this new sentence has only one space after
the dot, so go figure?

I'd really love for this to be cleared up once and for all!

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  • I have my own views on this subject, but will spare you them as they and it have nothing to do with the English language. Find a forum on typography. – David Nov 27 '19 at 20:33
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    I've always preferred to use two spaces at the end of a sentence. – Hot Licks Nov 27 '19 at 20:37
  • One of my dissertation readers insisted on the rule. I've found it no bother to accommodate the guideline when asked - it's easy enough to find and replace all in a word processor. In my experience, most people don't insist on it, and it makes the most sense when using a single-width type like Courier, where the standardized spacing makes two-space sentence endings more visible. – TaliesinMerlin Nov 27 '19 at 20:59
  • I reformatted your first two examples to use block quotes for legibility—and also converted one of the spaces after each of the sentences in the first example to a unicode non-breaking space. (Otherwise, the system would have formatted it as a single space.) – Jason Bassford Dec 1 '19 at 12:57
  • Very few modern publishers or editors use double spaces any more. In fact, it's conventional to search for all double spaces and replace them with single spaces whenever starting to work with a manuscript. – Jason Bassford Dec 1 '19 at 13:00
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Long long ago written matter was presented to the public largely through what was called "print"—black (or sometimes coloured) markings on an artificial membrane called "paper". At that time the aesthetics of document layout were managed by craftsmen called "printers" (or, more resoundingly, "typographers").

Eventually a machine was developed—a sort of proto-keyboard called a "typewriter"—which allowed writers or their amanuenses to emulate some of the effect of "printing". Some—but not nearly enough. Until quite late in its development the "typewriter" was limited to producing characters, points and spaces of a single fixed width. Consequently the "typewriter" was unable to match the very flexible and artistic spacing of letters and sentences effected by real "printers". To make typewritten manuscripts (or "typescripts") a little more legible the convention arose of putting two spaces after a full stop or other sentence-terminating point.

Now that the archaic "typewriter" has been superseded by modern word-processing devices, this practise is largely deprecated by publishers.

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  • Yes, because it's more expensive! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 27 '19 at 21:35
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    Oh, the bygone age of Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge Systems ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 27 '19 at 21:37
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    The claim that double sentence spacing was introduced to accommodate typewriters is widespread, but sources making the claim often seem to offer little evidence that this is true. Check out, for example, this Wikipedia article, or the CMOS's claim that "In the era when type was set by hand, it was common to use extra space (sometimes quite a bit of it) after periods."One Space or Two? – Juhasz Nov 27 '19 at 21:41
  • @Juhasz Quite so. But the typesetter had a variety of blanks at his disposal which he selected to satisfy his eye. (You can achieve the same effect in word-processed documents if you want to take the trouble.) The typewriter had only one space, of fixed size. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 27 '19 at 22:43
  • @Juhasz, indeed. Neverthless, and presence or lack of evidence for the claim notwithstanding, sentence-spacing on typewriters is the reason given when I was taught to type, and that's the rationale given by people I have discussed it with. – Tim D Nov 27 '19 at 22:45
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Brace yourself for strong feelings from two sides...

I believe the preference for two spaces or one is largely determined by when one learned to type. For those of a particular generation, say GenX and older, the use of two spaces was taught (because typing was taught) as a way to help mark the end of a sentence. This was particularly the case for typewriters, where the letters have a fixed width and the additional break helps increase readability. In the example you posted, the extra space helps because you use a fixed-width typeface.

Later generations will typically quote the advent of word processors, automatic kerning, and built-in typographical functions to support the use of a single space at the end of a sentence. It's not necessary and therefore should be avoided. In my experience, people feel strongly about this.

The "single space" set is largely right in that most text rendering systems will ignore the spacing you use for raw text and render it according to the rules set up by the word processor or web site, etc. Those choices are stylistic and vary according to designer preference.

Note that in the raw text for each of the respective paragraphs above, I used single, double, and triple spaces after the period-ending sentence, and the website has rendered them all the same.

You will not find a "once and for all" answer. The holy wars will wage on.

BTW, I use double spaces, because I was taught to type in the 80s. Old habits die hard; I will not try to convince anyone to do it my way, but I may well bristle against anyone trying to convince me that I have to use single spaces after my sentences. (For the record, this was an issue of no small irritation during the preparation and publication of my graduate theses.)

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Devices, like typewriters, that used non-proportional fonts needed something to help make sentences stand out, hence the double space, it was even taught in schools.

Now days with proportional fonts, not only is it not necessary to inject the extra space, doing so in a long multi-sentence paragraph using proportional fonts can create an annoying snaking white space that winds through the paragraph.

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