One Space Between Sentences, But How Many Returns?

GovLoop members tackled and thankfully put out there for all who wanted to know the answer to:

How many spaces are you supposed to put between sentences?

It’s one in case anyone missed the many responses and reasons why it is “one” and not “two”.

Well here is another question–given that revelation (I was brought up on the rule of two spaces in between sentences) what about the other places where you put two spaces….

  1. After a colon
  2. Return twice between paragraphs

Is it still two spaces or two returns or is it one given our technology? I look forward to your any updated guidance you can supply.

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Profile Photo Faye Newsham

One return (but still two spaces, technology be damned for actual readability in real non-printshop documents for the average Jane/Joe).

Profile Photo Marta Witt

Did some research on this re 508 compliance and Word docs. One return, but set your doument up to “add a space after paragraph” so that a screen reader will just read through and not announce extra “returns” used to create lines of space.

Profile Photo Scott Sysum


Your organization should have its own correspondence style book or manual. Usually you would need to use their recommended format. My organization uses one blank line line between paragraphs. Typically, double hard returns were used at the end of paragraphs to set one paragraph apart from the next. It put a blank space, the equivalent of one line of type, between each paragraph. You can now use paragraph formattingwhich allows the spacing to be controlled in smaller increments in order to achieve the best appearance based on the font, leading, and other elements of the design.

From the AP Stylebook.

Q. Should you put one space or two spaces after a period?
A. AP always uses one space after a period. 2006-06-30 (Source: Ask the Editor, )
Q. How many spaces should be used after a colon? One or two?
A. AP style is to use one space after colons (and between sentences). 2006-05-15 (Source: Ask the Editor, )
Q. Can I please confirm the number of spaces after a period and colon? Thanks…
A. AP uses single space after a period and colon. 2007-08-24 (Source: Ask the Editor, Punctuation)

Q. A Japanese, privately owned company calls itself “CSR&Company”. Is AP style “CSR & Co.” or would there still be no spaces before and after the “&”?
A. CSR & Co. looks fine. 2008-06-03 (Source: Ask the Editor, Abbreviations, acronyms)

Q. When listing a date, do you use spaces before and after the hyphen or is it closed up? For example, is it January 2-February 3 or January 3 – February 3?
A. AP style is no space in this case. 2007-06-07 (Source: Ask the Editor, Dates, time periods)

Q. Regarding rest and relaxation, would you use spaces or no spaces when shortening it to R&R (or R & R)?
A. Deferring to Webster’s which uses spaces with this abbreviation. 2009-08-14 (Source: Ask the Editor, Abbreviations, acronyms)

Q. When using a slash, do you put a space on either side of the slash(as in 24 / 12)or are the characters adjacent to the slash(as in “dogs/cats)? Thanks for your help.
A. no spaces. see “slash” entry for guidance. 2008-09-24 (Source: Ask the Editor, Punctuation)

Profile Photo Patricia Paul

Maria and Scott-Great information and really important points to know when working with 508 compliance in mind. Thanks for the research and the reference guides.

Profile Photo Elaine Gerdine

I recently was working at a computer with two interns. I used the term “return” and they gave me a blank look. I pointed to the key, and they said, “Oh, you mean Enter.” I had to tell them all about typewriters. They were greatly amused. Being no fool when confronted with evidence that I am out of date, I immediately began saying “enter.” However, the interns have taken to saying “return” consistently — and they laugh every time.

Profile Photo Patricia Paul


I will definitely keep that in mind for the future–it’s “enter” not “return”. Ah, bless the young for they someday will grow older! What kernels of wisdom will be shared with them by an wide-eyed intern who has no idea what they are referring to when they use the term “email”!

Profile Photo Paul Alberti

I am wondering does the number of spaces or “enter/returns” really matter? Can you read and understand the document? Does it convey the message the author intended? I was an Poli Sci major and History/English minor in college; which meant I wrote alot of papers. I was always being hammered by different professors on what I considered to be style issues. Some wanted commas, some wanted semicolons. My response was – did you understand what I was writing – did you get my message? Some smiled, and understood – others waved the style penalty flag per Strunk & White and used their (oh my gosh) red pens and bled all over my paper. Both docked me points anyway.

So, not only was I apparently emotionally scarred for life with the red pen, I never did figure out what was right 1 space or 2, 1 return or 2? Style is in the eye of the reader and the one grading! (BTW – I wrote every paper on a smith corola elite manual typewriter with onion skin paper). So what I am asking is – does it really matter – 1or 2 spaces after a sentence or not?

Profile Photo Patricia Paul


It sounds like you bring a lot of great content to the table when you are writing and that punctuation is not your utmost concern. I applaud you for enjoying to write and really having a point to get across. For those of us that don’t like to write particularly, we’ve got to win our readers over with following all the “rules” (and I do put that in quotations–who is really in charge of the rules) just so we can get on the board.

In school it may be in our best interest to abide by the sanctions of proper spacing and such. In the real world, we can thankfully do what we do best (in your case -write) and have someone else proof our work for technicalities (like spacing).

Keep on writing. I hope that you didn’t become discouraged by all the red ink!

Profile Photo Carol Davison

Were supposed to be writing in accordanc with the plain writing act of 2010.

I’m with Paul. It your content impresses me you can write in crayon on a used coffee filter.

Profile Photo Julie Chase

The Naval Correspondence Manual is our writing bible. I can’t stand it. My first encounter in writing a letter was traumatic. Red ink bled all over the paper. The heading had to be in the center. The seal had to be at the left. The date had to be rubber stamped or typed, i.e. 2 JUNE 2011, and below it, oh geez, I forgot (since I don’t write them anymore) some sort of number. References, a. b. c. etc, have to be placed under the paragraph. Your name had to be all capital letters (signature) and four spaces below the last sentence.

Now MARADMIN’s….a horse of a different color. ALL CAPS, no paragraph separations and you need a military to english dictionary to understand what it meant. It’s like interpreting the bible, everyone has their own deciper code.

I love “plain language”…….bring it on.

Profile Photo Jack Shaw

We are seeing changes in style books because of the need for electronic formatting and 508 Compliance. When you convert a document for online uses, the two spaces between sentences is too much, thus, one space is better for when the document is converted or just viewed electronically. I know that my own work looks best electronically with one space between sentences and two lines between paragraphs. Over the years in the military and civil service, I have seen subtle changes. I love plain language, but sometimes that is still a challenge for some supervisors who see it as too informal, but you often have to write the way your supervisor wants you to. If that’s more formal for documents leaving the office, so be it.

Profile Photo Alan Booker

OMG! Are you typing on a keyboard? Why are you still calling it typing, when you aren’t using a typewriter, or does keying/keyboarding get you confused with thinking you’re playing a tune? (I still use 2 spaces between sentences! It makes it easier to speed read. I often still say “return’ although there’s no “carriage” involved.)

Profile Photo Patricia Paul

Paul-apparently the only way that I can begin to have one space after a period is to finish “keying” the material and then do like someone mentioned in a previous post–search the whole piece for (. ) and then replace with (. )

I just can’t help myself.

Profile Photo Faye Newsham

I had a transcription job with a sub for Lexis-Nexis back in the day. Had to learn to type “.. ” at the end of every sentence for some stupid database tool conversion. Did that job for 2 months 20 years ago and still catch myself occasionally doing it. I’ve been in 508 compliance since it went into force in August of 2001. Two pillcrow’s (if we’re going to be pendantic over what to call the paragraph symbol in MS Word) are not acceptable. Each paragraph should end with a return (respective of technology used to accomplish) and there should be leading in the paragraph – either top or bottom in print and built in online. Screen readers don’t have heartache over two spaces between sentences. For readability in anything but fully typset books, default to two spaces (oh, and a serial comma! But email has no hyphen or cap… ;>).