Rules Do Change



Spacing after periods, colons, question marks, and exclamation marks

Originally, typewriters had monospaced fonts (skinny letters and fat letters took up the same amount of space), so two spaces after ending punctuation marks such as the period were used to make the text more legible. However, most computer fonts present no difficulty with proportion or legibility, so use just one space after a period, colon, question mark, or exclamation point at the end of a sentence. You will not be struck by lightning, we promise!

Quotation marks and punctuation

In several English-speaking countries other than the USA, a period used with quotation marks follows logic.
Examples:
Myrtle said the word “darn”.
The period is outside the quotation marks because only the last word was quoted, not the entire sentence.
Myrtle said, “I would never say that.”
The period went inside the quotation marks because this was Myrtle’s entire statement.

Today, in American English usage, the period always goes inside the quotation marks.
Example: Myrtle said the word “darn.”
This does not follow logic, but it makes life easier for those of us who have enough to think about besides punctuation.

Forming plurals in English 

As time has gone on, we have shortened some words and dropped the former plural form.
Example: The words memo and memos used to be memorandum and memoranda.

With the word data, we no longer see the singular datum used at all. Data is now often seen with both singular and plural verbs, although the word is considered strictly plural by purists.
Examples:
The data are being tabulated. 
The 
data is useful to the scientists.

Yet other words still retain their original spelling and plural form.
Example: curriculum (singular) and curricula (plural).

Beginning sentences with butandbecause

In “the old days,” you may have been scolded for starting a sentence with butand, or because. But you wouldn’t have deserved that scolding. If you start sentences with these words, it’s usually a good idea to follow them with independent clauses.
Examples:
But she would never say such a thing! 
Because of this bee sting, my arm is swollen. 

Posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, at 11:00 pm

If you wish to respond to another reader's question or comment, please click its corresponding "REPLY" button. If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

7 Comments on Rules Do Change

7 responses to “Rules Do Change”

  1. Kamal Taylor says:

    I took typing in class in high school (it was required in 1982), and while there was no doubt as to the need of using two spaces after a period as you well documented in your article, my typing teacher did say that the extra spaces after a period more cleanly delineated the end of a sentence to make reading easier. He was right, and I’ve found this is even more true today. The crowded fonts (designed to save ink as well as paper) make reading a chore. Try reading the same article with single and then with double spaces, and see if you can note which is easier. I think you will find that the old rule, while initially bespoke for typewriters (they were bloody awful machines to work on), is much more adaptable than you think.

    I’m not a pedant, but to say that the rule has changed is a rather abrupt end to a common practice. Was there debate before approving this rule change? I don’t remember hearing about it. If there was a discussion, I am sure me and my high school typing teacher would have thrown our two cents in.

    I have been castigated mercilessly for putting in two spaces after a period when marking the end of a sentence. I realize that this convention upsets many people for some reason, though I don’t share that sentiment when others leave one space. Yet the vitriol that us two-spacers receive is akin to being perceived as a Luddite, hell-bent on proselytizing all of you one-spacers. Well finally, here is some scientific proof, https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13414-018-1527-6. This details the efforts by scientists to study whether it was easier to read with one or two spaces and the answer, drumroll please, is it is easier with two spaces. Done. Case closed. I am no longer the Troglodyte. This news has been hard to accept for many one-spacers out there, particularly this poor soul writing in The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/05/two-spaces-after-a-period/559304/.

    Love your column. Thoughts?

    • We appreciate the positive feedback. The convention changed quite a while ago. You can read more about it at Wikipedia.
      In a reply on the Q&A page regarding this topic, The Chicago Manual of Style said: “I’m so sorry to report that that ship sailed long ago. You are a lone voice, crying in the wilderness. Too little, too late; a bolted horse, a dollar short. No metaphor can express how hopeless this is. Our best advice to you is to look for a silver lining in the single space.”
      Nevertheless, as you’ve mentioned, serious research continues on this topic. See also the Washington Post article mentioned by Anne P. in her May 14, 2018, comment.

  2. Tom Saywell says:

    I have always thought that alumni was plural, and alumnus was singular. I notice recently that “alumni” appears to be used as both or either — especially on all of those car license plate frames.
    What do you know about this?

    • The following distinctions are correct according to The AP Stylebook:
      Use alumnus (alumni in the plural) when referring to a man who has attended a school.
      Use alumna (alumnae in the plural) for similar references to a woman.
      Use alumni when referring to a group of men and women.

  3. Virginia M. says:

    I appreciate this very much. It’s hard for someone with decades of experience proofreading to keep up with new rules.

  4. Anne P. says:

    I happened to see an article in The Washington Post, dated May 4, about the single or double space at the end of sentences. The article discusses a scientific study on reading comprehension relative to single or double spacing after full stops, predictably focusing on periods. Interestingly, the longer space between sentences, even with proportional type, seems to help readers understand what they’re reading.

    You might find the article worth reading, just as a footnote to summaries of current practices in typesetting. Of course, the combined space that publishers save by eliminating the second space translates into saving pages in each book, which then translates into lower publication costs. I wonder to what extent the publishers have advocated the single space after full stops for financial rather than for other reasons.

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *