Sentence spacing in digital media

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Sentence spacing in digital media is the horizontal space between sentences in computer and web-based media. Digital media allow sentence spacing variations not possible with the typewriter. Most digital fonts permit the use of a variable space or a no-break space.[1] Some modern font specifications, such as OpenType, have the ability to automatically add or reduce space after punctuation, and users may be able to choose sentence spacing variations. Modern fonts that allow spacing variations will allow the average user the ability to easily manipulate the following spaces: non-breaking short spaces (thin spaces), non-breaking normal spaces (thick spaces), breaking normal spaces (thick spaces), and breaking long spaces (em spaces).

The use of shortcuts while using digital media, such as texting, has resulted in a change to sentence spacing techniques for some. According to Lynne Truss, "Young people ... are now accustomed to following a full stop with a lower-case letter and no space."[2]

Word processors and text input programs[edit]

The typesetting software TeX treats horizontal runs of whitespace as a single space, but uses a heuristic to recognize sentence endings—typesetting the spaces after them slightly wider than a normal space. This is the default for Tex, although the "\frenchspacing" TeX macro will disable this feature in favor of a word space between sentences.[3]

Computer word processors will allow the user to input as many spaces as desired. Although the default setting for many applications' grammar-checkers (e.g., Microsoft Word) is single sentence spacing, they can be adjusted to recognize double sentence spacing as correct also. A program called PerfectIt is an "MS Word add-in that helps professionals to proofread faster". The producer states that a feature was added to the most recent version of their program (as of August 2009), "to convert two spaces at the end of a sentence into one", but they have "never had any requests to convert one space into two".[4]

Some computer text editors, such as Emacs and vi, originally relied on double-spacing to recognize sentence boundaries. By default, Emacs will not break a line at a single space preceded by a period, but this behavior is configurable (with the option sentence-end-double-space). There are also functions to move the cursor forward or backward to the next double-space in the text. In Vim the joinspaces setting indicates whether extra spaces are inserted when joining lines together, and the J flag in cpoptions indicates whether a sentence must be followed by two spaces. The GNU Coding Standards recommend using two spaces when coding comments.[5] The optional Emacs mode LaTeX provides a toggling option French-LaTeX-mode which, if set to French, creates single sentence spacing after terminal punctuation.

Web browsers[edit]

Web browsers follow the HTML display specification and for programmers' convenience ignore runs of white space when displaying them.[6] This convention originally comes from the underlying SGML standard, which collapses multiple spaces because of the clear division between content and layout information.[7] In order to force a web browser to display multiple spaces, a special character sequence must be used (such as "  " for an en-space followed by a thin space, " " for an em-space, or "  " for two successive full spaces).[8] However, using a non-breaking space can lead to uneven justified text and additional unwanted spaces or line breaks in the text in certain programs.[9] Alternatively, sentence spacing can be controlled in HTML by separating every sentence into a separate element (e.g., a span), and using CSS to finely control sentence spacing.[10] This is seldom done in practice.

Character encodings[edit]

ASCII and similar early character encodings provide only a single space, which is breaking and fixed-width (the particular width specified by the respective font). EBCDIC, although earlier than ASCII, provided a breaking fixed-width space (SP), a non-breaking fixed-width space (RSP: "Required SPace"), and an alternate-width non-breaking fixed-width space intended for use in numeric lists with fixed-width (but not necessarily em-width) digits (NSP: "Numeric SPace"). HTML and Unicode can both record runs of consecutive spaces—including multiple-width spaces, and breaking and non-breaking spaces. HTML provides four variations on space width and one fixed-width non-breaking space: <space>, &emsp;, &ensp;, and &thinsp; (all breaking); and &nbsp; (non-breaking). In a typewriter font, <space> will equal &emsp;, but will vary according to the font designer's specification in all other fonts, whether proportional or monospace. The HTML standard also specifies display behavior, not just character encoding, so web browsers following the HTML standard will collapse multiple <space>s to a single <space>. Non-browser applications that use HTML encoding will not necessarily behave this way at display-time, e.g., later versions of Microsoft Word. Unicode provides 15 variations on space width and breakability, including: THIN SPACE &#8201; and NARROW NO-BREAK SPACE &#8239.[11] The following examples demonstrate the effect of these variations on a web browser—using space before punctuation to illustrate identical possible spacing variations following terminal punctuation. These spacing variations, combined with a standard word space, enable users to create custom sentence spacing—as alternatives to a single or double standard word space.

  • No space before the exclamation mark!
  • A no-break space before the exclamation mark !
  • A THIN SPACE (&#8201;) before the exclamation mark !
  • A NARROW NO-BREAK SPACE (&#8239;) before the exclamation mark !
  • A small-formatted no-break space before the exclamation mark !

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Microsoft 2010.
  2. ^ Truss, Lynn (2004). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books. p. 65. ISBN 1-59240-087-6. 
  3. ^ Eijkhout 2008. pp. 185–188. The default TeX spacing can be explicitly enabled with \nonfrenchspacing.
  4. ^ Lloyd and Hallahan 2009. See "iEditor" entry: 11 August 2009.
  5. ^ Free Software Foundation 2010. Main work: GNU Coding Standards
  6. ^ WC3 1999 9.1 White Space; Lupton 2004. p. 165.
  7. ^ How many spaces at the end of a sentence? One or two?
  8. ^ WC3 1999. 24.4. Character Entity References for Markup-Significant and Internationalization characters".
  9. ^ University of Chicago Press Chicago Manual of Style Online 2007.
  10. ^ How many spaces at the end of a sentence? One or two?
  11. ^ Korpela 2005; Unicode 2009; Sheerin 2001.