This is from a 1951 edition of Kipling’s Kim.

I’m fascinated by the punctuation conventions used: quotation marks, exclamation and question marks, all with leading spaces; long punctuation dashes without leading or trailing space; single, rather than double quotation marks around speech.

Although the book was reset for this edition (Macmillan 1951, the first after the end of WWII) this page is identical to a copy of the 1908 edition reprinted in 1923 in the possession of @David.

I’ve seen similar conventions used in the typography of a pre-war Agatha Christie novel.

This is from page seventy:

‪     (Please note: These paragraphs are justified text (flush left and right), so they have many tiny spaces within each line to make sure the ends of each all line up at the same column. These lines here, however, although ending at the same word as in the original, have a ragged, not a flush right, margin here because markdown syntax used by Stack Exchange does not allow full justification.)

that  ?  And, as thou canst see, he is mad.    But it
serves me while I learn the road at least.’

‪      He knew what the fakirs of the Taksali Gate
were like when they talked among themselves, and
copied the very inflection of their lewd disciples.

‪      ‘  Is his Search, then, truth or a cloak to other
ends  ?  It may be treasure.’

‪      ‘  He is mad—many times mad.    There is nothing else.’

‪     Here the old soldier hobbled up and asked if
Kim would accept his hospitality for the night.
The priest recommended him to do so, but in‐
sisted that the honour of entertaining the lama
belonged to the temple—at which the lama smiled
guilelessly.    Kim glanced from one face to the
other, and drew his own conclusions.

‪     ‘  Where is the money  ?  ’ he whispered, beckon‐
ing the old man off into the darkness.

‪      ‘  In my bosom.  Where else  ?  ’

‪      ‘  Give it me.    Quietly and swiftly give it me.’

‪      ‘  But why  ?    Here is no ticket to buy.’

‪      ‘  Am I thy chela, or am I not  ?    Do I not safe‐
guard thy old feet about the ways  ?    Give me the money
and at dawn I will return it.’    He slipped
his hand above the lama’s girdle and brought away
the purse.

‪      ‘  Be it so—be it so.’    The old man nodded
his head.  ‘    This is a great and terrible world.    I
never knew there were so many men alive in it.’

‪      Next morning the priest was in a very bad
temper, but the lama was quite happy  ; and Kim
had enjoyed a most interesting evening with the
old man, who brought out his cavalry sabre and,

p. 70 of the 1951 pocket edition of Kipling’s Kim

  • 4
    Who published your version and where? Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 16:19
  • 4
    What research have you done? Have you looked at other editions?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 16:36
  • 4
    They are quotation marks, just single inverted commas rather than double. Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 16:43
  • 2
    Do you think these features make any significant difference to your understanding of the meaning of what you read? It sounds as if you need a history of punctuation. On a quick Google search, I found two possibilities: 'Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of Punctuation' by David Crystal (Profile Books 2016); 'Period Styles: A History of Punctuation' by Ellen Lupton (AbeBooks 2007). I have read neither and so cannot do more than name them but either might be helpful. Bear in mind that punctuation is no more than an aid to understanding - a quite recent one in the history of writing.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 16:49
  • 1
    That's the sort of thing that you have to program algorithms specially to recognize. Normal resources won't tell you -- they're organized by words, and they usually ignore punctuation, like Google. So if you want to know when it started, you or somebody else is gonna hafta go through the texts yourselves. Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 17:40

4 Answers 4


Approach to the Question

The question addresses historical changes in typesetting* conventions, particularly in Britain. The primary concern is spaces associated with the following punctuation marks: ? ! ; : (“ ” or ‘ ’), to which I have added the extra space associated with the full stop or point (.) which the poster does not mention, but appears in his example. The subsidiary questions are the style of the punctuation dash or rule and the choice of single or double quotation marks. I shall deal with these, but only incidentally.
*I use the term typesetting, rather than typography, because the question is mainly about the space between the type elements, rather than the elements themselves. Of course, the two are closely associated in the overall design of the page, and the choice of single or double quotation marks and the length of rules is typography.


  • Printed work from as early as Shakespeare until the middle of the twentieth century was typeset in Britain with a space preceding the marks ? ! ; : and with two spaces following a full stop / period. A space followed the opening quotation mark and preceded the closing quotation mark, and both single and double quotation marks were used, the latter being more common. Long dashes or lines without spaces were used for punctuation.

  • I would suggest two technical developments provided the conditions for the overthrow of the conventions of three centuries: the replacement of manual by mechanical typesetting in the late 19th century, and the explosion in publishing in the paper-back format in the first half of the twentieth century.

  • A landmark was the introduction of new house rules in 1947 by Jan Tschichold at the Penguin publishing house, replacing the standard spaces associated with punctuation marks by thin and hairline spaces, the double-space following a full stop by a single space, and the long dash or line by an en-line with a space at either side. He also stipulated single, rather than double quotation marks.

  • By the mid 1970s the thin and hair space had generally disappeared at Penguin and elsewhere.

  • Other British publishing houses (some of which had already made departure from the older conventions), adopted these changes, although in a piecemeal fashion, and not in their entirety. (Thin and hair spaces were ignored or soon abandoned.) An example of such a historical development in a single general science journal is presented.

  • The single quotation mark has a long history, but was much less common than the double quotation mark until Tschichold’s making it Penguin’s standard. It probably now predominates, although the double quotation mark is still widely used in British publishing.

  • The spaced en- or em-line that differentiates British and US practice seems to be the one introduction that can be attributed to Tschichold and that transformed British style. Although the spaced en-line is still used by Penguin and others, some publications (The Financial Times for example) adopted and still use the longer em-line.

17th to 19th Century

The table below employed two online sources to examine original or contemporary editions of some classic works of literature. These were the British Library and Raptis Rare Books. Links are provided to allow the reader to verify entries in the table below.

Date Author Title ? ! ; : qu ds
1601? Shakespeare Hamlet yes yes yes yes
1742 Richardson Pamela yes yes yes
1773? Goldsmith She stoops to conquer yes yes yes yes
1792? Wolstencraft Rights of Women yes yes yes yes
1813 Jane Austen Persuasion yes yes yes yes yes
1817? Walter Scott Rob Roy yes yes yes yes
1848 Thackeray Vanity Fair yes yes yes yes

The dates of original publication are given. ‘?’ indicates uncertainty whether the example is a first edition.
The presence of a leading or following space for the particular punctuation mark (as appropriate) is indicated by yes or no. A ‘—’ indicates the punctuation mark is not present in the page(s) shown.
qu = quotation marks (single or, in most cases, double), with yes indicating enclosing spaces.
ds = double space after a full stop / period. (Contemporary single space would be no).

It can be seen that the additional spaces observed by the poster in his edition of Kim adhered to a long-established standard. The size of the spaces within quotation marks varied, and (as found subsequently) there was often less space left between the final stop and the closing quotation mark for optical balance. What was atypical of the time was the use of single quotation marks — almost all the other contemporary books I have examined used double quotation marks!

Jan Tschichold, 1947

The predominant historical style, described above, is to be found in all of the dozen or so hard-backed books I have inherited from the first half of the 20th century. Three examples of these — all from different publishers — are tabulated below. (Key as in previous table, but in this case the thinner hair spaces are indicated.)

Published Publisher Title ? ! ; : qu ds
1911 Everyman Crime & Punishment yes yes yes yes hair yes
1927 Nelson The Mill on the Floss yes yes yes hair
1947 Constable Wax Fruit yes yes yes yes hair yes

Although examples of more modern typsetting are to be found in this period in paperbacks and periodicals, I shall defer discussion of them until after describing the changes introduced by the German emigré designer and typographer, Jan Tschichold, when he was given free rein by Penguin to redesign their paperbacks. These are documented in his “Penguin Composition Rules” 1947, relevant extracts of which I quote from the volume Jan Tschichold, A Life in Typography by Ruari McLean (Lund Humphries, 1997). (The numbering of the ‘rules’ is mine, so I can refer to them.)

  1. “All major punctuation marks — full point, colon… should be followed by the same spacing as is used throughout the rest of the line.”

  2. “If this can be done on the keyboard, use thin spaces before question marks, exclamation marks, colons and semi-colons.”

  3. “Instead of em-rules without spaces, use en-rules preceeded and followed by the word space of the line…”

  4. “Use single quotes for the first quotation and double quotes for quotations within quotations.”

  5. “Opening quotes should be followed by a hairspace, except before A, and J. Closing quotes should be preceeded by a hairspace except after a comma or a full point.”

Rule 1 eliminated the double space after full stop.
Rule 2 eliminated the full space after the punctuation marks shown in the table.
Rule 3 introduced a completely new style for rules, which has become distinctively British.
Rule 4, although with historical precedent, rejected the predominant contemporary style.
Rule 5 eliminated the full space inside quotation marks.

Penguin Books was established in 1935, and I can only find a couple of pre-Tschichold examples in our collection. With this disclaimer, I present the table below as example of ‘before’ and ‘after’:

Date Author Title ? ! ; : qu ds
1940 David Low Europe since Versailles yes yes yes
1950 Ivan Turgenev On the Eve yes yes thin thin no no
1954 Josephine Tey The Daughter of Time thin thin thin thin hair no
1956 CP Snow The Masters thin thin thin no no

It should be mentioned that only the 1940 text had double quotes, and the three later ones had the spaced en-rule.

Early 20th Century Developments before Tschichold

As already mentioned, changes in typesetting were occurring in the early 20th century before 1947, perhaps influenced by the introduction of paperbacks and by the demise of manual typesetting. Indeed in Penguin itself, different styles were to be found — I have a wartime edition of Thornton Wilder in modern US style.

However examples of a move to a more compact style, as regards space, can be found in designers of quite a different philosophy from Tschichold, who had worked at the Bauhaus and published a declaration that the only modern typefaces were sans serif faces. These were the members of the Arts and Crafts movement, who certainly rejected modern mechanical typography. Thus, in John Ruskin’s The Nature of Gothic, despite imitatiing a page of an illuminated manuscript, one can clearly observe only single spaces after a full stop, and hair spaces before a semi-colon. In a similar vein, my wife has in her possession a small hard-backed lace instuction book published by Dryad Handicrafts in 1928. It is replete with anachronistic st and ct ligatures in the body text, but nevertheless has abandoned spaces within quotation marks (double, incidentally) or before semi-colons or question marks.

Influence on other Publishers and Further Evolution

I am unable to document the changes in other paperback publishing houses, but the small sample from the fifties and sixties shown below indicates a change from the traditional typesetting was occuring then. The single quotation mark was not found in any of these four, and the abandonment of full spaces did not necessarily go via thin and hair spaces.

Published Publisher Title ? ! ; : qu ds
1953 Pan The Man in the Queue thin yes yes no no
1961 Faber The Inheritors no no thin no no
1963 Fontana The Leopard thin yes no yes yes yes
1966 Panther Our Lady of the Flowers no thin no no no no

Indeed, Penguin itself abandoned thin and hair spaces in the 1970s — The first part (The Great Fortune) of the 1974 edition of Olivia Manning’s Balkan trilogy retains all the thin spaces, the second part (The Spoilt City), lacks some before question marks but retains others, whereas in the third part (Friends and Heros) none remain.

As a more scientific approach to the development of typesetting in Britain in the 20th century, I examined a single publication: the weekly general scientific journal, Nature, published by Macmillan for the period in question. All issues of the journal are available in the archive as scans of the originals if you have access through a University library etc. The graph below shows that after the early abondonment of spaces within quotation marks, changes occurred in four distinct phases between 1960 and 1980, when the unspaced rule was finally adopted, albeit as an em-rule, rather than an en-rule. (Images and examples of em- and en-rules can be found in this answer to a question specifically on such rules, which I have recently updated in light of Tschichold’s description.)

Evolution of typesetting in Nature and Science

Yellow and orange represent the traditional typesetting, blue and purple the modern typesetting, as described above. The graph for Science lacks the rule, as it did not change, and information for the exclamation mark, which is uncommon in the publication.

Our American Cousins

It is hardly surprising to discover that 19th century typesetting conventions in the US were similar to those in Britain, as these continued the tradition current at the time of colonization. This is illustrated by pages from the first edition (1882) of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, viewable on the website of an auction house at the time of writing.

I am not able to say when the punctuation spaces disappeared from books published in the US (certainly by 1970 when I lived there). An auction-house 1932 first edition of Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” has lost the double-space following a period, but retains a thin space before a colon or semi-colon. I leave a more extensive investigation of books to others, but was able to perform an analysis using the archive of the US journal, Science, similar to that for Nature (above). It can be seen that the transformation was earlier in the US, but occuring after 1950 for the most part.

To what extent changes in the US were influenced by changes in Britain is unclear. It seems unlikely that Tschichold was influenced by American practice as his immediate background before coming to Penguin was in Switzerland, working in a language, German, with quite different typesetting conventions.

  • I have now rewritten my answer with extensive supporting evidence. Apologies for the time it took. Some my consider it excessive (obsessive?), especially as it is about the presentation of the language, rather than the language itself. However, as I have more access to original sources than many, I felt a duty… Nah, it was fun. Corrections and requests for clarification welcome.
    – David
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 21:30

An interesting question. The additional spaces certainly stem from at least the Victorian era, and were used by the Boy's Own Paper from 1879 until at least 1936 (the latest volume I have). Sampling my bookcase I find that John Buchan's Sick Heart River (Hodder and Stoughton, 1941) follows the earlier practice closely, whereas David Attenborough's Zoo Quest to Guiana (The Reprint Society, 1958) conforms to modern usage without the spaces.

My copy of Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press Oxford (Oxford Univerity Press, 38th edition, completely revised 1978) makes no mention but conforms to the modern usage in its examples. My best guess is that the change took place gradually during the 1950s as different publishers revised their house styles.


It is an interesting question and Duckspindle’s answer aligns with my doodling. It’s normal to assume that the punctuation rules we first learned are chiseled in stone. In my case, that was double quote marks and no spaces. It was only later I discovered that, for folk a couple of generations earlier (and now later), it’s the opposites that are chiseled in stone. All this is easily cited so I won’t bother to do so here. Formatting practices - these being close relatives to punctuation - are subject to even more frequent turnover: correspondence norms, for example, with indents and spacing and so on is an obvious example. And should there be just three stops after a sentence like this or can there be more…? Bottom line is that all these things go around and around (or round and round?), and that folk say the new ways are wrong when they are just a revival of equally wrong (or right?) old ways.

  • 'Scuse me, but the citation would be helpful, as "easiness" is a bit relative. I have read my copy of Kim several times, and once online, I think, but I never heard of using spaces with quote marks before now.
    – Conrado
    Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 20:43
  • 2
    Do you have an image of handwriting from "earlier generations" with spaces between the quotation marks and the quotation? Typography is not taught in school, it is a specialized commercial area. And the early prevalence of single quotation marks has not been established by the poster and is inconsistent with my own observations.
    – David
    Commented Jun 26, 2022 at 21:20

I find this intriguing, honestly, specifically because at the age of 40, I have never seen, heard, or been instructed to leave whitespace before the ending punctuation to a sentence. I would have to assume this is a practice in other cultures. At the risk of triggering negative feelings from other nationalities towards the United States (which with an objective point-of-view, I understand) this isn't a practice I've ever seen in my 4 decades.

  • Nor I , in six decades . Now all the sheeple are leaving spaces everywhere ! Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 13:15
  • This was never taught in school in Britain during the 60s, or, I imagine, at any time previously. But that is not the point — typography and handwriting are two different things.
    – David
    Commented Jun 26, 2022 at 21:17
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    In handwriting I never remember being taught anything specific or explicit about spacing. In typing class in the 1990s, U.S., we first learned to leave two spaces after the full stop if it is used to end a sentence. After abbreviations, one space was to be used, and in between abbreviations, no spaces were to be used. For example, in "U.S.A.", there is one space after "A." and no spaces elsewhere. Nowadays I rarely or never follow the two-space rule for sentences.
    – Brandin
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 9:33

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