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Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Monday, September 1, 2014

Revisiting the Double-Spaced Sentence


To clarify what we're talking about today:




The last time I discussed this subject, I confused some folks who thought I was talking about double-spacing your paragraphs, as in, where there is an extra blank line in between each line of horizontal text, as opposed to the block spacing format this blog post uses.  So, there, right off the bat I hope we're all on the same page (ha!)  We're talking about adding (if you're in one camp) or subtracting (if you're in the other) a space after your final punctuation mark of each sentence.

I never thought I'd have to revisit this subject (I mean, is this really scintillating subject matter for anyone?) but today I came across this rather abusive article.  So, clearly this author is taking a somewhat more nuanced approach to the subject than Farhad "FUCK THE WORLD I AM THE ARBITER OF ALL GOOD TASTE" Manjoo, but still not a kind one to the double-spacer camp.

So the Cult of Pedagogy article suggests that this matter is generational.  Old fogies who grew up on slide rules, Victrolas, and typewriters, who still hilariously try to push the return bar on their computers, are the only ones who still double-space sentences.  And young, hip, presumably urban Twitter-users who grew up on Facebook and don't know who Paul McCartney even WAS, man, are single-spacing their sentences.



So, if you read this article (which, God bless you if you could get through it without throwing your device on the ground) the author even admits that she never heard of this no-double-spacing so-called "rule" until 1999.  Which means that the only people who might potentially have learned NOT to double space in formal writing are 15 or younger.

I supposedly am a Millennial.  The oldest possible Millennial, but still.  I never heard of this supposed rule change until 2012.  Admittedly, I don't have kids in school and I'm not a teacher, so I wouldn't know what's being taught these days.  But even assuming I'm stupendously out-of-touch (which I may be) then this no-double-spacing thing came into vogue at some point between '99 and '12.  And Manjoo even admits in his article that it's still a matter of some contention, though he, of course, considers the debate moot.

I'm not going to relitigate this stupid discussion.  I mean, feel free to in the comments if you want.  I don't believe in prescriptivism in language, so it usually sticks in my craw when someone proclaims there is One True Way to English correctly.

But what it boils down to for me is that, like the Oxford comma, I see no good reason NOT to double space.  It adds clarity and there are occasions when not doing it leads to confusion.  The worst possible outcome of single-space construction (just like leaving off that last serial comma) is that the reader has to re-read something in order to understand it.  But why make your reader do that?

And the only argument for it's hip?  You look like you're over 40 if you don't do it?  Even though everyone over the age of 15 would've been taught that this was correct for formal writing?


After writing this entire blogpost, I drilled down into the comments on the Cult of Pedagogy article and discovered these three articles that essentially explode all of Manjoo's supposedly definitive and unassailable opinion piece.  More food for thought, anyway.


  1. I believe I am well qualified to rebut your post, as you and I went through the exact same schooling through high school. I recall learning to double-space after a period in 7th-grade typing class. The other things we learned in this class were WordPerfect shortcuts. I assume you still use those as well?

    Can you give a good example of a passage where using a single-space is confusing, but a double-space clarifies the meaning? Also, even if this rule came into being in 1999 (which is clearly not true), that would mean that it would be taught to those who were in school at that time, not saved for those born after that date.

    I have always used single-spaces for the same reason I stopped drawing the fancy lead-ins while writing cursive letters: I'm lazy, and it saves time.


    1. Ah! Yes. You are right. So assuming this rule went into effect in 1999 (which I'm not thoroughly convinced of) and everyone learns typing at around age 13, that would mean everyone 28 and younger would potentially have learned it this way? That's a lot closer to 30 than 40, but at least it makes the "you must be over 40" statement less dickish.

      Regarding your witty WordPerfect shortcut bon mot, I think you're conflating things. I don't use WordPerfect. We also learned DOS prompts in that class, and I can't recall the last time I had to actually dig into DOS. I still type every day, though, and the formal formatting I learned in school is what I still use in formal writing. (L334speak and texting is a whole other can of worms.)

      I still hit tab at the beginning of a new paragraph, capitalize proper nouns, and use double quotations to indicate dialogue (and single quotations to indicate dialogue within dialogue.) The British, incidentally, reverse this, with no real loss of clarity. Certainly we can and should use whatever makes the written word clearer, and not be afraid of changes in things like typesetting, but I'm not convinced this is one of those cases.

      As a comparison note, when you learned musical annotation, I would assume you did it on a chalkboard with a staff drawn with one of those fancy wooden five-chalk holding devices. Or possibly a workbook and a stub of a Number 2 pencil. And you probably struggled to figure out how to write all the clefs and notes at first. I wouldn't be surprised if now you're using a computer program, and it more or less does the annotation for you. So, although you no longer use a chalkboard or a workbook (and such things seem outdated) does that mean that the way you learned musical notation is now invalid? Yes, the computers and the programs we used in typing class seem hokey now, but the fundamental shit we learned was important. My Dad learned how to do math on a slide rule, but you know what? He still knows math.

      I would argue that every passage benefits from double-spacing to clarify the meaning. But as a specific example, any sentence that ends with an abbreviation. Or any use of an abbreviation within a sentence followed by a proper noun.

      "Walking down Dreshertown Ave. I saw a man with a stupid beard."

      "I was walking down Church St. Basil caught my eye."

      Etc., Etc., Etc.

      Also, I appreciate your argument that the only valid reason not to double space is laziness. That at least is more helpful than "It makes you look middle-aged!"



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