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Quotation Mark And Space After Period: Rules You Should Know About

Punctuation

Punctuation Rules You Need to Know

Have you ever wondered, like me, if one or two spaces should come after a period in a sentence? Well, we are not alone. Apparently there is a dichotomy of opinion on this issue. Strongly held views are asserted by each camp. For the one-spacers, Farhad Manjoo puts it best:

“Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong.”

Well, alright then. Not long ago, mere hundreds of years back, inconsistency reigned regarding spelling, punctuation and print design. In the early 20th century typesetting eventually became more widespread. Typesetters began to settle on a single space after the “full stop.” Europe was first to adopt this and America followed soon after. Then came a now virtually extinct technology — the manual typewriter. The first typewriters had mono-space type. The introduction of the two-space rule was to accomodate the aesthetic shortcomings of the mono-space typewriter.

Things had hardly settled down when the 1970′s advent of modern proportional fonts turned it all upside down again. As the need for the extra space fell away the single-space-after-a-period made a comeback. Ask any modern typesetter today. The consensus is universal, one space rules.

Another one that gives rise to confusion is the rule of the period and the quotation mark. This rule applies equally to the other punctuation marks, like comma, exclamation and question mark, when used with quotation marks. Depending on whether you are following British or American convention there are two ways of doing this. British style dictates that only punctuation marks that are part of the quotation should be included inside the quotation marks.

Does she look like a “Jane”?
He said: “What are we going to do next?”
The dog is named “Fido”.

Americans do it differently. The punctuation mark always falls inside the quotation mark:

Does she look like a “Jane?”
He said: “What are we going to do next?”
The dog is named “Fido.”

As is often the case with American language rules, there’s an exception. When the quotation involves a single letter the punctuation mark falls outside the quotation mark:

The three doors were marked “A”, “B”, and “C”.

If that’s not confusing enough for you there is a rider to this rule. It concerns the introduction of an apostrophe to the mix.  Here the punctuation comes after the apostrophe, but inside the quotation mark:

“We went to the concert with the Davids’.”

As far as I can tell this applies for both British and American usages. To see just how confused some people are about “quotation” marks, check out this fun link: the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks. You won’t feel so bad next time you make a mistake that involves a quotation mark.

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12 Comments

  1. Carol says:

    Oh, just so you know, if I ever get published I will definitely give you credit for any and all help/advice. Thanks again.

  2. Carol says:

    How do you punctuate a someone making a quote for example I think this might be right but not sure. only with the inside quote being italicized?
    James said: “You know mom and dad would not like us to do that. They would tell us something like ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’.”

    • John says:

      Hi Carol.

      You’ve got me there.

      Personally I favour your treatment of:

      ” . . practice to deceive’.”

      over the first alternative:

      ” . . practice to deceive’”.

      or the second:

      ” . . practice to deceive.’”

      The latter two look a bit awkward by comparison. They look like typo’s, to me. Particularly the last one.

      Thanks. Nice question.

      • Carol says:

        Thank you for your response. I kept it like the example I used. I am attempting to write a novel. I may need more help later. If you don’t mind me asking you questions. I am not very good at grammar.

  3. Homie says:

    So do you put 2 spaces after a quotation that ends a sentence?

    Like: “My name is Homie.” (2 spaces) Yadda yadda yadda.

    Or: “My name is Homie.” (1 space) Yadda yadda yadda.

    Can you help me? Which one is it?

    • John says:

      Hi Homie,

      My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that it is correct to use one space in your example. That’s certainly my preference. However, if you prefer to use two, I would defend your right to do so.

  4. Hecto says:

    And why does this blog automatically convert my two spaces to one space after the full stop?! This moderation is prejudiced and unnecessary.

    • John says:

      Hi Hecto,

      I must commend you. You are probably the first to notice this anomaly. In fact you are the first. My guess is that it’s a quirk of WordPress. Your comment has certainly motivated me to see what can be done about it. It may be a setting that I don’t know about yet. I just tend to remove the double space when I notice it. Thank you for the heads up.

    • Andrew says:

      I know this post is a little more than a year old, but I’d like to clarify this point. The rendering engine of your Web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or whatever you use) flattens *all* runs of multiple space characters into a single space. If you press Ctrl+U to view the HTML source of the web page and then press Ctrl+F to search for the text of your comment, you’ll find both of your spaces perfectly preserved in the page source.

  5. Hecto says:

    If the consensus is universal as you so put, then why is there still much debate over one or two spaces? In a poll of over 22000 people, the majority preferred two spaces to one. This is hardly “universal” consensus. I will continue to use two spaces after the full stop, thank you very much.

    • John says:

      Yes, it’s definitely a matter of personal preference. It’s possibly very much more annoying for those who edit great volumes of text. Typographers tend to be “one space’ers.” Notice the position of that last full-stop. I’m not American but I prefer the look.

      You have every right to use two spaces and I will defend your right to do so.

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