## An inconclusive psycholinguistic take on post-period spacing

A while back, I peeved about the people for whom public devotion to single-spacing after a period is a form of virtue-signaling. I’ve now learned that the one-space-or-two issue has found its way into the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, which has posted “Are two spaces better than one? The effect of spacing following periods and commas during reading” ($) by Rebecca Johnson, Becky Bui, and Lindsay Schmitt. The paper came to my attention via Matthew Butterick, the author of Typography for Lawyers and the free, online-only Butterick’s Practical Typography ("Are two spaces better than one? A response to new research"). He writes: Ap­par­ently de­fy­ing Bet­teridge’s Law, the study claims to show that two spaces af­ter a pe­riod are eas­ier to read than one. On its face, this also seems to con­tra­dict my long­stand­ing ad­vice to put only one space be­tween sen­tences. Be­cause the study costs$39.95 for a PDF, I’m cer­tain the so­cial-me­dia skep­tics rush­ing to claim vic­tory for two-spac­ing have nei­ther bought it nor read it. But I did both.

True, the re­searchers found that putting two spaces af­ter a pe­riod de­liv­ered a “small” but “sta­tis­ti­cally … de­tectable” im­prove­ment in read­ing speed—about 3%—but cu­ri­ously, only for those read­ers who al­ready type with two spaces. For ha­bit­ual one-spac­ers, there was no ben­e­fit at all.

Fur­ther­more, the re­searchers only tested sam­ples of a mono­spaced font on screen …. They didn’t test pro­por­tional fonts, which they ac­knowl­edge are far more com­mon. Nor did they test the ef­fect of two-spac­ing on the printed page. The au­thors con­cede that any of these test-de­sign choices could’ve af­fected their findings.

On The Verge, Angela Chen agrees with Butterick, as the title of her piece makes clear: "Please don’t use this study to justify your horrible habit of using two spaces after periods."

Butterick also notes that in addition to the issues that are discussed above, the test materials were quadruple spaced. [Update: I'm referring to the line-spacing.] Yikes! I suppose that it's possible that this didn't matter, given that the spacing was the same in all the experimental conditions. But can we be sure of that? Certainly the decision to use such extreme line-spacing wasn't motivated by a desire to replicate typical real-world reading conditions. I suspect that the decision was  a compromise necessitated by the fact that the tests included an eye-tracking component (in addition to testing reading times). My guess is that the eye-tracking equipment's resolving-power was insufficient to ensure accuracy if more realistic spacing had been used. If so, this may be an example of looking for your keys under the streetlamp, because that's where there's the most light.

In any event, Butterick has a few things to say that are directed to the two-spacers, but that the evangelical one-spacers should pay attention to as well:

I agree with the re­searchers’ clos­ing thought: “we should prob­a­bly be ar­gu­ing pas­sion­ately about things that are more important.”

An ide­al­is­tic thought, but ar­gu­ing pas­sion­ately about dumb top­ics is the web’s rai­son d’être. In­ter­net ran­dos have been try­ing to rope me into ar­gu­ments about two-spac­ing for 10 years. I in­dulged them at the out­set. But not for a long time.

Why? Spoiler alert: I really don’t care how many spaces you put be­tween sen­tences. One? Two? Seven? π/4? Knock your­self out.

Ty­pog­ra­phy is not a sci­ence. Like lan­guage it­self, it has some struc­tural and prac­ti­cal con­ven­tions. If your goal is to per­suade read­ers, it’s wise to be aware of these con­ven­tions, be­cause re­ly­ing on them can help you. Con­versely, de­part­ing from these con­ven­tions may have un­in­tended consequences.

But in the end, it’s up to you. I’ve never held my­self out as the apex tastemaker nor the ty­pog­ra­phy po­lice. My project is to ed­u­cate writ­ers about these ty­po­graphic con­ven­tions, be­cause tra­di­tion­ally, these con­ven­tions aren’t taught along­side writ­ing. (Though they should be—in the dig­i­tal age, ty­po­graphic skill seems just as es­sen­tial as typ­ing skill.)

To that end, wher­ever there’s room for dis­cre­tion and choice, I say so. I want read­ers to de­velop their own ty­po­graphic judg­ment, not merely recre­ate mine, cargo-cult style. I de­ploy my sternest tone only for those ty­po­graphic con­ven­tions that are im­mov­ably en­trenched. In other words: let’s not waste en­ergy dis­put­ing the indisputable.

That’s why I start this book with one space be­tween sen­tences. Not be­cause it mat­ters so much vi­su­ally. But rather be­cause the rule is so well set­tled. It’s a lit­mus test for ty­po­graphic skep­tics: if you can’t ac­cept that pro­fes­sional ty­pog­ra­phers al­ways use one space be­tween sen­tences, you’ll likely find the other rules a bore.

To bring this post full circle, I'll return to the peeve that referred to at the beginning. Here's Chen once more:

It’s important to note that, in a deeper way, none of this—not one space or two, not “tabs versus spaces,” or the entire Oxford comma debate—really matters. Humans just love to become overly attached to debates that hold relatively little significance.

But now that I look at that quote more closely, I see that at the beginning of the first sentence, right after "It's important to note that", she put a comma, which isn't needed, and that's something that always bugs me.

If you'll excuse me, I feel a tweetstorm coming on.

1. ### Dick Margulis said,

May 1, 2018 @ 10:10 am

So-called studies of typographic readability, almost without exception, are conducted by people who don't know anything at all about typography. Consequently they are polluted by confounding variables of which the investigators are blissfully ignorant. This is just another in a long line of these useless exercises. Wouldn't it be refreshing if someone who was truly interested in the subject consulted a living, breathing typographer on the study design? (I don't really have much hope of this ever happening, of course.)

2. ### Fred said,

May 1, 2018 @ 10:48 am

"It’s important to note that, in a deeper way, none of this … really matters."

The comma after "note that" is working with the next comma (after "way") to set off "in a deeper way" as a sort of aside. She could have used parentheses instead, but I think commas were a reasonable choice. Deleting just the first comma would have left us with:

"It’s important to note that in a deeper way, none of this … really matters."

To my eye, that's worse. But if "in a deeper way" were also deleted, then I too would find this punctuation awkward:

"It’s important to note that, none of this … really matters."

3. ### Jim said,

May 1, 2018 @ 11:01 am

Truth be told, there were those of us who were TAUGHT to use 2 spaces, for whom one space just "doesn't look right". I'm sure, like every other language/grammar/typography nightmare on the web, I'll adjust.

Also, as a college freshman trying to fill out a 5-page paper on an IBM Selectric, every space counted…

4. ### Jonathon Owen said,

May 1, 2018 @ 11:24 am

Dick: Sounds like maybe it's time for you to do your own study.

Jim: So are you saying that most books, magazines, and newspapers printed in the last 50+ years don't look right to you?

5. ### poftim said,

May 1, 2018 @ 11:31 am

Here in Romania a significant minority of people use no spaces at all.I don't know why.Is it laziness?Wanting to save space?The feeling that a full stop (or question mark or exclamation mark) already acts as a separator so why add another one?Who knows,but to me it's utterly insane,and it messes up Google Translate.

6. ### Ursa Major said,

May 1, 2018 @ 11:39 am

The comma after "It's important to note" is required because it's part of the parenthetical pair separating "in a deeper way" from the rest of the sentence. If you take the first comma out you also have to take out the second one, which wouldn't be wrong – but leaving only one of them would be. Well, maybe that's just my opinion, anyway…

Quadruple spacing the text (I assume that means line spacing, I got confused at first and thought you meant they put four spaces after full stops, which I'm sure everyone would agree is wrong) seems like quite a big flaw, but the killer for me is that they only used monospaced fonts. My understanding is that the double-space habit developed on monospaced typewriters because it is easier to read in that situation (or maybe it comes from telegraph where the text could come out all caps as well and sentence breaks be even harder to see?), so it's not really a fair experiment. Personally I was taught to double space on an electric typewriter in the mid 90s and then switched to single spacing once I started using computers regularly, but really I don't care at all.

7. ### Dick Margulis said,

May 1, 2018 @ 11:40 am

Jonathon: I'll be happy to collaborate with someone who has the statistical chops and the funding—preferably on a more interesting question than this one, though.

8. ### David Marjanović said,

May 1, 2018 @ 11:41 am

But now that I look at that quote more closely, I see that at the beginning of the first sentence, right after "It's important to note that", she put a comma, which isn't needed, and that's something that's always bugged me.

Omitting it would confuse me for a second or two, which is a long time in reading. In "It’s important to note that, in a deeper way, none of this", "in a deeper way" is marked as an insertion into the sentence, which would otherwise be "It’s important to note that none of this". As it is marked by commas in writing, so it is usually marked by intonation in speaking. Punctuation is more standardized than intonation, but it's not pure random convention unrelated to actual speech.

Without the first comma, I would misparse that and believe that in a deeper way refers to note, as in "it's important to note this in a deeper way". That would be odd – and then I'd expect a colon instead of a comma behind it.

9. ### Jonathon Owen said,

May 1, 2018 @ 11:47 am

Ursa Major: The double-space habit was actually just a way of replicating the look of typeset text at the time, which used extra spacing between sentences. It wasn't until the mid-twentieth century that professional typesetters started using a single space between sentences.

I wrote about it last fall here, and my post includes an example from the first Chicago Manual of Style, which used extra sentence spacing. I also linked to a few other posts that cover the issue in a lot more depth.

10. ### Ursa Major said,

May 1, 2018 @ 11:56 am

@Jonathon Owen: Thanks, that's interesting and makes sense. I've certainly seen a lot of older typeset text with those conventions. I actually did wonder about typesetting but I've seen the monospaced typewriter explanation so much that I didn't bother wondering for long. Still, only using monospaced fonts is a pretty major flaw in the experimental design.

11. ### Yuval said,

May 1, 2018 @ 12:06 pm

I totally noticed those two spaces between "was" and "a compromise" back there.

12. ### Linda Seebach said,

May 1, 2018 @ 12:53 pm

The first H&J software I used was flummoxed by two spaces, so I switched.

This was around the time when our local paper used H&J software that invariably hyphenated the name of our city as Nor-

thfield.

13. ### richardelguru said,

May 1, 2018 @ 12:58 pm

Atleastwedontstillusescriptiocontinuathatwouldbemuchmoreawful

14. ### Michèle Sharik said,

May 1, 2018 @ 1:19 pm

“Here in Romania a significant minority of people use no spaces at all.I don't know why.“

My brother, who was raised in the Netherlands (and still lives there, while I was raised in the US and still live here (it’s a long story)), does this and it drives me crazy! As poftim says, it completely messes up google translate. Argh!!

15. ### Wm Annis said,

May 1, 2018 @ 1:34 pm

It seems to me that this argument largely a consequence of the sort of technology you are using to write. Almost every piece of text I produce for public consumption is going to end up as HTML or as a PDF generated by LaTeX. In both cases, whether I use one space or 50 the rendering engine will ignore my spacing in favor of what it thinks good typography is.

The two space habit trained into me in high school is usually cloaked by software, sparing the sensitive eyes of the one-spacers. People using WYSIWYG editors regularly probably have to care more about the matter.

16. ### Jake said,

May 1, 2018 @ 1:53 pm

I'm going to choose to assume that Neal Goldfarb is not aware of the widespread use of the term "virtue-signalling" by all sorts of jerks on the contemporary internet.

17. ### Benjamin David Steele said,

May 1, 2018 @ 1:59 pm

@Ursa Major – "Personally I was taught to double space on an electric typewriter in the mid 90s and then switched to single spacing once I started using computers regularly, but really I don't care at all."

That was the same for me. I took a typing class in high school, maybe '93 or '94. I was taught double spacing. But I continued doing so even when I was using a computer. In the '90s, I used computers the same as a typewriter.

It wasn't until years after being on the internet that I finally gave up the habit of double spacing. I didn't particularly care one way or another. Most people online used single spaces and so I figured I might as well. After a while, my old writing with double spaces looked odd to me.

18. ### Anarcissie said,

May 1, 2018 @ 2:17 pm

Wm Annis touches on the question of what you mean by 'space' — an n-space, an em-space, or something else. In most present typing environments, the rendering environment is proportional-space, and it's the software that determines how much space follows a period or other punctuation symbol.

I have some French books where the punctuation gets a space _before_ as well as after the symbol. I imagine that would drive peevers seriously crazy.

19. ### J.W. Brewer said,

May 1, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

To the claim that "in the dig­i­tal age, ty­po­graphic skill seems just as es­sen­tial as typ­ing skill," let me respond with the perhaps ironic note that in former not-yet-digital generations typographic skills were in fact taught along with typing skills, because when you learned to type you were typically taught simultaneously the then-standard typographic conventions for typewritten documents, which of course included double-spacing after periods. (You also, of course, double-spaced in addresses in between the abbreviation for the state and the zip code, to signal that you weren't an ill-bred barbarian.) Apparently somewhere between some earlier Golden Age and the later, perhaps decadent, age in which I was taught those conventions in a formal school setting (age 15, 1980-81 academic year) some conventions for typewritten documents had diverged from those for typeset documents. Perhaps that made sense (because typewriters generated monospaced results and typesetting generally didn't); perhaps it didn't. But if the English language can survive some systematic differences in spelling between the US-educated and the UK-educated, you'd think it could survive this.

20. ### Jerry Friedman said,

May 1, 2018 @ 3:01 pm

As I always say, I don't notice the difference between 1, 1.5, or 2 spaces, except occasionally when there's a period after an abbreviation and I can't tell whether it's the end of a sentence. That doesn't happen with >1 spacing.

Neil Goldfarb: Is "Butterick has a few things to say that's directed to the two-spacers" a mistake?

21. ### Jerry Friedman said,

May 1, 2018 @ 3:02 pm

That last comment is addressed to Neal Goldfarb, as is this apology.

22. ### STW said,

May 1, 2018 @ 3:45 pm

I learned to type in 1969 and was long out of collage before I wrote a paper that wasn't type written. Muscle memory puts two spaces after a period. Period.

23. ### Neal Goldfarb said,

May 1, 2018 @ 4:13 pm

Like many people, I learned to type in the pre-computer age, and learned to put two spaces after a sentence-ending period. I became a one-spacer as an adult, and as far as I can recall, I didn't find the transition all that difficult.

24. ### Neal Goldfarb said,

May 1, 2018 @ 5:15 pm

Several people have taken issue with statement that the first comma following sentence is unnecessary: It’s important to note that, in a deeper way, none of this—not one space or two, not “tabs versus spaces,” or the entire Oxford comma debate—really matters. Those people are essentially regarding in a deeper way as an interpolation into what they see as the underlying "basic sentence"—that basic sentence being It’s important to note that none of this—not one space or two, not “tabs versus spaces,” or the entire Oxford comma debate—really matters.

Thus, David Marjanović says, "'[In] a deeper way' is marked as an insertion into the sentence, which would otherwise be 'It’s important to note that none of this'." Similarly, Ursa Major says, "The comma after 'It's important to note' is required because it's part of the parenthetical pair separating 'in a deeper way' from the rest of the sentence."

On that construal, the comma after that is appropriate. But I parse the sentence differently.

I construe the content clause as a single unit that could stand alone as a separate sentence: in a deeper way, none of this—not one space or two, not “tabs versus spaces,” or the entire Oxford comma debate—really matters. That clause is subordinated by the introductory phrase It's important to note that On that construal, the comma is unnecessary, because the relevant pattern is It's important to note that [CLAUSE], with no comma after that. In fact, if the content clause doesn't start with an adjunct such as in a deeper way, including a comma after thatwould be inappropriate. (*It's important to note that, none of this…really matters.)

I think that both of these ways of thinking about the sentence are acceptable, and as a result I don't think either of the punctuation options can be condemned as incorrect. However, I think that in this case, as in many others, treating the entire content clause as a single, uninterrupted unit makes sense from a stylistic point of view, because even though It's important to note is the main clause as a matter of syntax, as a matter of discourse it's really just a transitional device that introduces what is really the sentence's important content.

I prefer not using a comma before the content clause, because I think that leaving it out results in the overall sentence having a more speech-like prosody. If the sentence is been uttered in conversation, thatwould typically be almost completely unstressed. (At least that's how I think I'd say it.) In contrast, including the comma results in that being stressed. And when I read analogous sentences written with a comma after that the prosody feels unnatural to me.

Although David Marjanović thinks that if the sentence were to be uttered spontaneously (as opposed to being read aloud), it would be pronounced with that being stressed—i.e., with "comma intonation." As I've suggested above, that's not my intuition.

And although David says that "without the first comma, [he] would misparse that and believe that in a deeper way refers to note, as in 'it's important to note this in a deeper way'", the risk of such a misparsing seems to me to be small unless a very good candidate for the antecedent of that appears in the immediately preceding text.

25. ### Ellen K. said,

May 1, 2018 @ 5:34 pm

@J.W. Brewer

But in the pre-digital days, it was only typographical skills for typing with a typewriter that were taught when we learned to type. We weren't taught anything about the typographical conventions and such used in typeset documents.

26. ### Andreas Johansson said,

May 2, 2018 @ 1:48 am

Speaking of typing class, back in the mid-90s, the powers that were at my primary school noticed that typewriters were being replaced by computers, and removed typing from the curriculum; clearly typing on a keyboard was an obsolescent skill. As a result I'm completely autodidact at typing.

One result of this was that it took a good while before I put any space at all after punctuation. From handwriting I knew one put spaces between words and punctuation between clauses/sentences, and if the results looked odd clearly that was a kerning problem. I was eventually convinced of the error of my ways by MS Word's grammar check.

(Perhaps needless to say, I always put a single space after punctuation and trust the software to make it the appropriate width.)

27. ### Berna said,

May 2, 2018 @ 2:21 am

Arguments in favor of two spaces:
• The period is an overloaded piece of punctuation with multiple meanings. Periods alone are ambiguous or misleading sentence termination.
• Two spaces allows for vastly simpler and more accurate machine interpretation, including translations and text-to-speech.
• Ironically, this machine-interpretation issue allows for simple technology to allow the reader to control visual layout to their aesthetic preference. One space between sentences forces readers into the writer's preference.
(From https://widespacer.blogspot.com/2016/01/summary-of-arguments-in-favor-of-two.html)

28. ### poftim said,

May 2, 2018 @ 2:41 am

Andreas,

Interesting. I'm trying to figure out where this weird (to my eyes at least) zero-spacing practice might come from. As far as I know, hardly anybody from English-speaking countries does it.

You mention MS Word's grammar checker (which, IMO, is worse than useless). In my version of Word, missing a space after punctuation triggers the *spell* checker, i.e. it treats the string of characters as a single word that happens to have a punctuation mark in the middle.

29. ### Andreas Johansson said,

May 2, 2018 @ 3:15 am

@poftim:

It's possible that I misrecall and it was the spell checker that got triggered. Or perhaps it's changed between versions – this was 20+ years ago after all.

30. ### MattF said,

May 2, 2018 @ 6:41 am

I'm a bit hung up on the monospaced vs. proportionally spaced issue– it's unclear to me exactly what text ends up at the end of a sentence in a modern word processor. What's the spacing for a period? What's the spaceing for a space? Are spaces kerned? Is there a difference between the appearance of text with one vs. two spaces? Or is it more like LaTeX, where the input spacing is irrelevant?

31. ### Rodger C said,

May 2, 2018 @ 8:00 am

back in the mid-90s, the powers that were at my primary school noticed that typewriters were being replaced by computers, and removed typing from the curriculum; clearly typing on a keyboard was an obsolescent skill.

Educational bureaucrats are wondrous creatures. Bless their heart.

As for me, I'm an autodidact at typing because I graduated from high school in 1964, when typing classes were for girls who wanted to be secretaries, certainly not for anyone preparing to be a professional.

Of course it was all monospace in those days; I picked up the practice of two spaces after periods. When proportional spacing came in, I switched to one space without any problem.

32. ### Steve Downey said,

May 2, 2018 @ 10:38 am

The best summary of wide or tight sentence spacing seems to be http://widespacer.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

One of the significant reasons for moving to single spacing was because typing two spaces into the linotype typesetter could break it. A single space could still be set as a wide sentence space, but two spaces together didn't work.

http://widespacer.blogspot.com/2014/01/two-spaces-old-typists-habit.html

“By far the biggest item of cost of operation is damage to matrices and spacebands, which to a very great extent is traceable to ignorance on the part of perforator operators of the limitations and performance of the Linotype.” –British Provincial Press Productivity Team, 1952

33. ### David Marjanović said,

May 2, 2018 @ 4:55 pm

The double-space habit was actually just a way of replicating the look of typeset text at the time, which used extra spacing between sentences. It wasn't until the mid-twentieth century that professional typesetters started using a single space between sentences.

I've seen plenty of printed works with two spaces between sentences. IIRC, all of them were in English. Double spacing does not seem to have caught on elsewhere, I never heard of it in a German context, and I can't remember seeing it in my mom's typing textbook which I used to teach myself to type in the mid-90s (same situation as Andreas Johansson).

However, I never zero-spaced, and never understood why anyone does. You can plainly see in every printed work that there's a space there! I also immediately noticed the "was  a compromise" in the OP. :-)

On that construal, the comma after that is appropriate. But I parse the sentence differently.

You parse: "None of this […] really matters." as the basic sentence. Then you insert "In a deeper way" at the beginning, surrounded by commas, except of course that the one at the beginning is suppressed. Then you insert "It is important to note that", and the suppressed comma resurfaces because it's no longer sentence-initial…

Although David Marjanović thinks that if the sentence were to be uttered spontaneously (as opposed to being read aloud), it would be pronounced with that being stressed—i.e., with "comma intonation."

Nope – that's not what I said. Comma intonation is much more complex than that! What the comma does is in this sentence is it deemphasizes the following in a, which gets less volume and usually lower pitch than the syllables around it. (In slow pronunciation you may also get a bit of a pause after that, but that's actually quite rare in casual speech.) Omitting the comma gives us a monotone at least for that in a.

34. ### Andreas Johansson said,

May 3, 2018 @ 3:23 am

David Marjanović
However, I never zero-spaced, and never understood why anyone does. You can plainly see in every printed work that there's a space there!

As I said, my model was handwriting.

One might also question just how obvious to the uninitiated it is that the white space to the right of a full stop is a separate character that has to be input rather than just part of the period.

35. ### Rodger C said,

May 3, 2018 @ 6:58 am

One might also question just how obvious to the uninitiated it is that the white space to the right of a full stop is a separate character that has to be input rather than just part of the period.

I'll bet Andreas has it there.

36. ### *as* said,

May 4, 2018 @ 2:21 pm

OMG, here's TABS after a period: https://xkcd.com/1989/

37. ### Neal Goldfarb said,

May 4, 2018 @ 11:47 pm

@David Marjanović:

You parse: "None of this […] really matters." as the basic sentence. Then you insert "In a deeper way" at the beginning, surrounded by commas, except of course that the one at the beginning is suppressed. Then you insert "It is important to note that", and the suppressed comma resurfaces because it's no longer sentence-initial. [boldfacing added]

I'm familiar with the idea of phonologically null semantic elements, but this is the first I've ever heard of the idea of typographically null punctuation marks.

38. ### David Marjanović said,

May 5, 2018 @ 5:06 pm

One might also question just how obvious to the uninitiated it is that the white space to the right of a full stop is a separate character that has to be input rather than just part of the period.

Trial & error should settle that pretty quickly if you look at the screen or paper while you write…?

this is the first I've ever heard of the idea of typographically null punctuation marks.

*shrug* That's how I've been thinking about it as far back as I can remember, and I remember how I figured out how to read when I was not quite 5 (…in a country where it's normal to arrive in school illiterate at age 6 and learn to read there). Apparently most people just sort of skip over the extra squiggles…?

39. ### Angela Chen said,

May 5, 2018 @ 8:13 pm

As a longtime LL reader, I am delighted that my sentence has been thoroughly analyzed. I did want to add that I meant "in a deeper way" as an insertion. Also, I have passed this post along to our copy editor for her consideration! (However, please do not let me know if there are any misplaced commas in this comment itself.)

40. ### Giodisseo said,

May 8, 2018 @ 7:50 pm

Fully behind David Marjanović on the matter of comma usage. Tallies 100% with how I've always used or copy-edited the punctuation mark in question. I know that in some situations it's commonly accepted to elide the first, (but never the last) comma of a parenthetical. But the logic at play is otherwise as described by David in my view

And I'm suspicious of adducing pronunciation-based considerations in support of alternative readings of comma usage: pauses in punctuation and pauses in utterance follow distinctly different scripts, as it were (ask any actor or voiceover artist…). For good or ill, the rules of the former are rather fossilised by usage now.

Wanna see a wrong comma? You should look no further than the OP's second-to-last sentence!

"[A]t the beginning of the first sentence […], she put a comma, which isn't needed, and that's something that always bugs me."

The second commas there is a bit problematic as it's the same punctuation used to indicate the caesura later on (third comma). The two commas appear to mark the relative as a non-restrictive parenthetical of the following clause: "[A]t the beginning of the first sentence […], she put a comma and that's something that always bugs me." Which leaves out too much of the intended meaning (and sounds positively comma-phobic!). The bugbear in question, of course, is not to "put a comma", but to "put a comma which[/that] isn't needed" (a restrictive relative). So we have two solutions: either we remove the second comma, leaving the third one to indicate the longer pause, or we retain the luxury of a smaller pause mark there (I'm all for it!) but duly upgrade the third punctuation mark to indicate the caesura and prevent the relative clause from looking like a parenthetical, e.g. "[A]t the beginning of the first sentence […], she put a comma, which isn't needed — and that's something that always bugs me."

41. ### Giodisseo said,

May 8, 2018 @ 7:55 pm

(Not sure what that comma after "elide the first" is doing there, but I guess I had it coming!)

42. ### Wide Spacer said,

May 9, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

As a confirmed two-spacer, and the author of a blog on the topic (which some comments above link to), I was happy at first to see this study coming out, but ultimately, it fails to make a truly useful study of the topic, in much the same way that many other studies fail. It's a study of sentence spacing together with bad typography. Too many studies use monospaced fonts and bad justification techniques. This one happens to land on "my side" by mere luck, not by quality of the study, and I can't endorse the (overstated) conclusions even if they do support my views.

Why quality of typesetting matters for sentence spacing: http://widespacer.blogspot.com/2012/12/a-river-runs-through-it.html

As for the question of importance: most of the recorded body of human knowledge is printed, and most of that (by year at least) is printed with wide sentence spacing. It can be demonstrated that this extra space is meaningful – by clarifying otherwise ambiguous punctuation. We can throw it all away because a handful of grumpy old editors with bad software have led the charge against wide sentence spacing, or we can work to preserve our recorded history into the digital era, and preserve a meaningful grammatical practice for the future.

Example of sentence spacing semantics: http://widespacer.blogspot.com/2016/01/nota-bene-charles-dickens.html

To me, that's important.