When you’re typing there are two ways you can go when you reach the end of a sentence and are ready to type another.

You can leave one space between the end of the first sentence and the beginning of the next sentence.

Or you can leave two.

The latter is correct:  you should always leave two spaces between sentences.

So The Curmudgeon has long insisted.

He knows, first, that this is correct, because it’s the way he was taught – back in the days when there was a right and a wrong and no one – no one – was even suggesting the other way.  But he also knows, second, that this ultimately will be a losing battle, like those who insist on impacting upon and who reject use of the serial comma and who persist in using those damn verbifications.

The Curmudgeon does his best to enforce this standard where he works, but again, he recognizes that it’s a losing battle.  If he writes it, it has two spaces between sentences. If someone else writes it and he edits it, he makes sure there are two spaces.  (Although he thinks he has a co-worker who unedits his edits and makes it one space.)  And when others write and don’t have him edit?  It’s sheer anarchy!

Despite his overall pessimism about this subject he was heartened to read in a recent edition of The Atlantic that a small, only semi-scientific study suggests there is a rationale for the two-space approach.

The war is alive again of late because a study that came out this month from Skidmore College. The study is, somehow, the first to look specifically at this question. It is titled: “Are Two Spaces Better Than One? The Effect of Spacing Following Periods and Commas During Reading.”

A study! Science!

Rebecca Johnson, an associate professor in Skidmore’s department of psychology, led the team. Her expertise is in the cognitive processes underlying reading. As Johnson told me, “Our data suggest that all readers benefit from having two spaces after periods.”

“Increased spacing has been shown to help facilitate processing in a number of other reading studies,” Johnson explained to me by email, using two spaces after each period. “Removing the spaces between words altogether drastically hurts our ability to read fluently, and increasing the amount of space between words helps us process the text.”

In the Skidmore study, among people who write with two spaces after periods—“two-spacers”—there was an increase in reading speed of 3 percent when reading text with two spaces following periods, as compared to one. This is, Johnson points out, an average of nine additional words per minute above their performance “under the one-space conditions.”

To be fair, while the study found a difference in reading speed it found no difference in reading comprehension.  Also, the written material used in the study was a typed Courier font, which no one uses anymore, and not something generated through modern word processing software. The argument used by advocates of the one-space approach, which The Curmudgeon understands and appreciates while still rejecting – curmudgeonly prerogative, he likes to think of it – is that typewriters allot the same amount of space to every character, regardless of its width, whereas word processing software adjusts the space between letters and sentences based on the width of the individual letters.

But The Curmudgeon says nuts to that.  He’s sticking with two spaces between sentences, declares vindication for the view he’s long espoused and enforced, and now can do little but hope that he retires before the good guys lose this battle, as they almost certainly will.

Oh, and one final thing: take a look at the spacing in this little article.  It features one space between sentences and one after colons.  The Curmudgeon types it the correct way – the only way – but when he imports it into the WordPress interface to be posted (by cutting and pasting, not a more highfalutin process) it automatically adjusts his two-space spacing to one space.

The Curmudgeon has been – edited!  And edited incorrectly!







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  • Peaches Shimmerdeep  On September 16, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    I believe in the two space method. More white space on the page makes for easier reading. And it’s part of my muscle memory after all these years. Two!!!

  • foureyedcurmudgeon  On September 16, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    Agreed, for both reasons – but I really do suspect it’s a losing battle.

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