One Space or Two After a Period?

One Space or Two

One or Two Spaces?

It turns out that, in today’s world, the correct answer is almost always one:

Use just one space after a period.

Later in this article, I will show you how that extra little space can make a big difference in Kindle formatting.

If you want to learn why one space is better than two, why most educated people believe that “two” is the correct answer, when it’s really “one,” and how this misunderstanding has evolved, check out a really cool article called “Space Invaders” by Farhad Manjoo in Slate Magazine:

If you self-publish, this becomes a practical matter:

  • Examine traditionally published books carefully. You’ll see that one space after a period is almost universal.
  • Two spaces after a period can exaggerate gaps in justified text. This is important for both print books and e-books.
  • On Kindle e-books, that extra space can create a noticeable formatting problem (as I’ll demonstrate in the last picture of this article).

Study the following picture. The first paragraph uses two spaces after each period, while the second paragraph uses just one. In both cases, you can see large gaps in the justified text. But in the second paragraph, on any given line, the gaps are consistent across the line. In the first paragraph, there are very large gaps after the periods.

One Space Example

Tip: Activate Word’s hyphenation tool to help reduce the gaps in justified text.

  • In Word 2003, find this in Tools > Language > Hyphenation. In Word 2010, it’s under Page Layout > Hyphenation.
  • Go to File > Options (look below Help) > Advanced > Layout Options (it’s at the bottom, and doesn’t seem like something you can click, but you can click it) and check the box to hyphenate like WordPerfect in Word 2010.
  • Increase the hyphenation zone to avoid excessive hyphenation. Something like 0.4 may work well.
  • Manually hyphen by inserting a hyphen in a natural syllable break (consult a dictionary).
  • Manually override an automatic hyphen by placing your cursor at the beginning of the word and pressing Shift + Enter.
  • Don’t do any manual hyphenation until the book is virtually ready to publish. If you do any revisions to your book, you must inspect carefully for the impact those revisions may have on manual hyphenation adjustments (e.g. a small revision in a paragraph could cause a manually inserted hyphen to no longer appear at the end of a line).
  • Don’t do any manual hyphenation in your e-book. (But, of course, you should have hyphens in compound words that use hyphens, like self-published.)

If you use two spaces after a period in a Kindle e-book, this becomes noticeable whenever a period happens to fall at the end of a line. Look closely where the red arrows point in the picture below. The top paragraph uses two spaces, while the bottom paragraph uses just one, after a period. The bottom paragraph has better formatting.

Kindle Test Two Spaces Show

If you already have two spaces after each period, it’s easy to fix this mistake. Simply use the replace tool. Enter two consecutive spaces in the find field and a single space in the replace field.

Chris McMullen

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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34 comments on “One Space or Two After a Period?

  1. This is really hard for us “old school” folks. I try to remember. Part of the problem is the double tap to insert a period on a touch device. Then moving to a laptop and only spacing once.

  2. I remember reading an ‘eBook Formatting’ file before joining Kindle and that’s where it said one space instead of two. Never questioned why, so thanks for making the reason clear.

      • With Scrivener, there’s a feature you click on and it corrects that for you. You type the whole document or manuscript and do that as an edit when you’re all done.The more I learn about it the more I love it.

      • I’ll have to check Scrivener out someday. A search and find to replace the extra spaces is pretty simple, too. My thumb seems slightly happier now that I don’t press the spacebar quite as much. Ha ha.πŸ™‚

  3. Okay, I see the problem here. My copy of the MLA Style Manual is still giving instructions for preparing an MS on a typewriter. So sue me; I’m old. But I appreciate you explaining the reasoning here, and I’ll work on reforming myself. I already knew about removing the extra space for ebooks, but hadn’t changed for print. Great. Now I can reformat all my books and upload again :-p

    (I really tried to use only one space in this comment, with mixed success. I do resent Mr. Fanjoo at Slate implying that those of us who use two are morons. We’re OLD, okay? It’s very hard to break the habits learned in one’s youth, and I’ve been touch-typing probably since before he was born. Certainly since before the invention of the word processor).

    • I had also been taught to two-space. It’s very common in academia. Some still teach it this way. Mostly out of habit and what has been passed down, but just like double-spacing essays, I think some teachers like having that extra space after the period to insert an editing mark (like to capitalize the first letter or change the punctuation mark).

  4. All of the Federal agencies I’ve ever been employed at have always used two spaces. Some of them even capitalize words like “state” in sentences, as if it were a proper noun. I learned from my editor during the process of proofreading and editing my book about using one space so I use one space everywhere else. But let me throw a monkey wrench in the works: doesn’t the justification of documents negate the one space issue? Where is the economy of space in those instances?

    • Actually, in full justification, use of one space becomes even more important, not less. As you know, full justification introduces larger gaps between words. The gap between the period and first letter of the following sentence is even wider than normal if you use two spaces instead of one (i.e. each of those two spaces is expanded when justified full, making that gap even more pronounced).

  5. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, which makes me sound much, much older than I am. I blame it on our school district, which must have been broke even way back then. Anyway, we had a very stern instructor who drilled the two-space rule into us. Even though I know those double spaces are no longer necessary with these “new-fangled” word processors, old habits die hard. Every once in a while, I find a double space and hang my head in shame.

  6. I’ve been touch-typing since dirt was invented and it took a while for me to dump the space-space habit. While you adjust — if you choose to do so — here is how to delete extra spaces in Word. Choose Replace (or Find and Replace). In the Find field: enter a period and hit the space bar twice. In the Replace field: enter a period and hit the space bar once. Choose Replace all. Ta da!

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