[rant] One space or two between sentences?

Ink penApparently, the b/a/t/t/l/e discussion over whether to use one space or two between sentences r/a/g/e/s/o/n continues. Since I have not yet expressed my opinion on the subject, here it is:

You have got to be kidding me, right? Of all the things you could worry about in writing—characters, plot, theme and metatheme, moral center, rising and falling tension, use of language, etc. — you’re obsessed with this?

Once upon a time, when typesetters used single-letter type or operated linotype machines with “hot lead” type, two spaces made sense. Anything that made the typesetter’s job easier made sense. Editors were used to seeing those double spaces after a final period and a single space looked “wrong” and “sloppy” and – heavens! – amateurish, because it was not the norm.

Word processors have changed all that. It’s trivial to do a global search-and-replace two spaces for one. Your editor can, with a couple of clicks, make your manuscript look however she wants. (As an editor, I do this quite a lot and I don’t find it in the least annoying.)

What matters and what has always mattered is not however many spaces you put between sentences. It’s what’s in those sentences and how they fit together to create a story.

Here endeth Deborah’s rant on the subject of double spaces between sentences.

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[rant] One space or two between sentences? — 11 Comments

  1. I just did a search-and-replace to change the two spaces to one in my finished ms. But afterwards I reflected that it would be way less trivial to reinsert them, given the variety of punctuation marks the sentences end with.
    If I were an editor, I would prefer to get a ms in the most easily modified form… but I’ll go with the prevailing convention, whatever.

    • For myself, I can make changes in the appearance of a manuscript only at certain phases of the life of a story. I’ll drive myself nuts if I try to do it when I’m deep into the guts of the story. It’s a matter of retraining old habits, and I have only so much focus at any given time.

      That said, I do agree that there is value in following the current conventional presentation unless there is a good reason not to. I clung to the Oxford (serial) comma even when it wasn’t fashionable because I strongly believe it enhances clarity.

  2. Here, here! When I’m dealing with new and untried authors I like the two spaces because it is a quick mental signal no matter what the punctuation is, correct or incorrect. With more experienced authors that I trust, one space is fine.

    Agree, two spaces to one is a quick fix before it goes to formatting. If authors want to obsess about something, then nuke the extra space between the terminal punctuation and the paragraph mark. That’s what sends formatters into hypertension.

    • That’s so true, but because it doesn’t show up in WYSIWYG, beginning writers don’t even know it’s there. I loved WordPerfect because of the Reveal Codes feature that made it so easy to see. Still, with Word you can do a Find if you know what to check for.

  3. Back in the post-paleolithic era when I learned to type, the rule was two spaces after colons, semi-colons and the end of sentences. So that’s how I still do it, word processors be damned. I’ve occasionally received flack for my two-spaces-after-the-colon/semi-colon habit (i.e. when anyone who somewhat cares actually happens to notice), and have reluctantly begun to alter that practice; but one space at the end of a sentence just doesn’t feel right to me, no matter how it’s eventually formatted.

    Mind, I’m also rabidly anti-autocorrect, because I detest having my intentions (usually wrongly) anticipated.

    Guess that means I’m entering my crone years.

    • The first thing to do — always — is disable all the autocorrect features on the word processor. grrrr I hates ’em, I do.

  4. Spaces between punctuation and quotes? I’ve never heard of that one and have never seen it ‘corrected’ in an MS, so I guess word didn’t insert any.

    The editor on my last MS replaced straight quotes with curly ones using some kind of search string that removed all the carriage returns between lines of dialogue. That was really aggravating, but now I’m wondering what she could possibly have done to get that effect.

  5. Sometimes, in my less charitable moments, I think that the obsession over such minutia is similar to that with the minutia of correct resume formatting among job hunters. When the competition for a limited number of slots is ferocious, and when enormous numbers of people go after every available slots, it’s very possible that editors and HR people use some trivial but common mistake to eliminate enough aspirants that the pile of MSS/resumes becomes manageably short, and then actually look at the content of the remaining ones. If such a practice becomes commonly known, or even suspected, it’s likely that a lot of people will fret that their excellent effort won’t get an honest evaluation over some trivial oversight, and focus their attention on the minutia of formatting, even to the exclusion of actual content.

    • That’s a good thought, Leigh. (And glad to see you, too. :waves:)

      Personally, I think worrying about one or two spaces is silly, so long as you are consistent. As an editor, I’ve usually got bigger fish to fry. And as a writer, I try not to bog myself down with such trivial concerns because again, I’ve got better things to do with my time.

      It’s pretty easy to go back and do a global search and replace at the end to do whatever the editor wants/needs.

      That said, when you’re stalled out on a MS and you’re wondering what to do next, sometimes fiddling with the MS and making it look slightly different (whether it’s font or size or what-have-you) can help a little bit.

      But I use that trick sparingly.