1285: Third Way

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
(Redirected from 1285)
Jump to: navigation, search
Third Way
'The monospaced-typewriter-font story is a COMPLETE FABRICATION!  WAKE UP, SHEEPLE' 'It doesn't matter! Studies support single spaces!' 'Those results weren't statistically significant!' 'Fine, you win. I'm using double spaces right now!' 'Are not!  We can all hear your stupid whitespace.'
Title text: 'The monospaced-typewriter-font story is a COMPLETE FABRICATION!  WAKE UP, SHEEPLE' 'It doesn't matter! Studies support single spaces!' 'Those results weren't statistically significant!' 'Fine, you win. I'm using double spaces right now!' 'Are not!  We can all hear your stupid whitespace.'


This comic refers to the debate occurring in the United States about the correct number of space characters after a period at the end of a sentence.

While typewriter typists in the United States were traditionally taught to use two spaces between sentences, this is becoming less common and many sources now recommend having only one space, although this topic is still controversial.

Cueball is advocating a line break after every sentence, the mysterious "third way".

This obviates the problem, as a period will always appear at the end of a line and the spacing after it becomes moot.

A line break after every sentence is sometimes called "semantic linefeeds".

This is particularly useful when plain text files based on a markup language (such as HTML, TeX, or Wiki markup) are edited by multiple people using a version control system where it helps to facilitate comparison of changes and avoid merge conflicts.

In most markup languages, a single line feed in the source is rendered as a simple space, while two linefeeds generate a paragraph break.

This approach allows the source to be easily manipulated and versioned, while the rendered output still keeps the regular flow and justification abilities of running text.

(Incidentally, HTML and languages derived from it such as BBCode and Wiki markup will generally render multiple consecutive whitespace characters as a single space, so pretty much every page on the Internet uses single spacing whether the author wants to or not.)

The title text uses single spaces between the back-and-forth quotations; but within each quotation, the quoted speaker's preferred spacing is used; when the single-spacing advocate claims to be using double spacing, this is indeed a lie.

However, realistically, it is implausible that one can hear whitespace.[citation needed]

Randall's mocking characterization in the title text of overzealous advocates using the phrase "WAKE UP, SHEEPLE" has appeared in previous comics: 496: Secretary: Part 3 and 1013: Wake Up Sheeple.

Note that this is not the first time Randall has proposed a controversial third way, and this debate is later referenced in 1989: IMHO.

Sentence spacing was previously mentioned in the title text of 1070: Words for Small Sets.


[To the left a group with three Cueballs, a Ponytail and Megan at the front which face another group with two Cueballs, a Ponytail and a black haired ponytail at the front. Each group has a placard. A Cueball in the left group has a cutlass and a Cueball in the right group has a spear as they are angrily facing off against each other. Off to the far right side stands a lone Cueball also with a placard.]
Left placard: Two spaces after a period
Middle placard: One space after a period
Right placard: Line break after every sentence

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


I think the article should explain the 'typewriter story' mentioned in the title text. Ollieollieoxenfree (talk) 04:22, 30 April 2021 (UTC)

I'm wondering if the title text refers to the habbit many people have of slamming on their space key creating a very load sound- hence you can hear the difference between one space and two. But I'm not confident enough to edit the page 19:12, 1 December 2020 (UTC)

One line per sentence is reminiscent of a diagrammed/formal logic argument in philosophy. It would be a much more effective convention to help people parse and interpret content and validity of e.g. political claims. 17:21, 2 November 2013 (UTC)

Line break after every sentence.
Because I can. 04:41, 20 February 2014 (UTC)

ONE SPACE AFTER A PERIOD. Davidy²²[talk] 04:38, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

MY VOTE TOO!!! --Dgbrt (talk) 18:36, 1 November 2013 (UTC)
MY VOTE, TWO!!! (not really) Orazor (talk) 09:20, 1 October 2014 (UTC)

Writing plaintext, I always do two spaces after a sentence ending period. This is probably because I did in fact start typing on a real typewriter. In an environment where automatic formatting will take place, like a web page or wiki text, I use the newline. I have had people in this wiki collapse my multiple line forms to one of the others. (I was disappointed.) --Divad27182 (talk) 04:48, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

I prefer double spacing, but I used single spacing in writing the explanation, just to make people happy. Perhaps I should have used new lines. Concomitant (talk) 05:10, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

I'm a double-spacer too. Am I wrong? I can't break myself of the habit, I even do it in tweets! --Jeff (talk) 16:43, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

The 'third way' is a little underappreciated here: it divides the text into self contained logical units, and makes text processing tools (grep, diff etc.) much more usable. Proper text rendering engines (TeX, HTML, etc.) already make this assumption and group sentences accordingly. If only I realized this earlier, it would have made my thesis revisions much more easier. In fact, up to this moment, I thought I was that lone guy in the comic. EDIT: this comment in xkcd forums makes my point clear: http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=106217#p3489055 -- 05:42, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

As a programmer, I find nothing weird in adapting your style to language. Writing two spaces in HTML or TeX is useless, as they won't render as two spaces anyway. (While using for this purpose nonbreakable spaces, which would render, is a crime.) -- Hkmaly (talk) 10:48, 1 November 2013 (UTC)
It would also render incorrectly if the period was close to the end of a line. If the markup is [last word of sentence][period][nbsp][space][next sentence], the last word of the first sentence could end up on the next line unnecessarily. But if it's [last word of sentence][period][space][nbsp][next sentence], the next line of text would start with a space, which is much worse.--Rael (talk) 15:16, 1 November 2013 (UTC)
I end my sentences with a line break, a % and another linebreak. Only after commata etc i use a single line break. Oh, and don't forget to protect the space after points used in abbreviations, not as full stops, by a backslash. Most TeX increase the length of the space after a full stop a bit. Bit question: Why don't double space people, when using Word not just use a longer space instead of a double space. Noone would have the idea to indent a paragraph or substitute a tab with a series of spaces. 03:11, 2 November 2013 (UTC)
Because the keyboard does not contain a longer space key.-- 18:13, 4 November 2013 (UTC)

I always just find and replace double space with single space. If formatting suffers, someone did a bad job. 06:33, 1 November 2013 (UTC) Synthetica

I always just find and replace single space with double space. If formatting suffers, someone did a bad job.-- 18:13, 4 November 2013 (UTC)

So, why did double spacing after a period ever exist? It doesn't seem necessary. PheagleAdler (talk) 07:31, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

Here's the standard explanation: on typewriters, each character takes up the same amount of space. So a lower-case "i" takes up the same amount of space as a capital "M". This is called a monospace font. When typing, if you just put a single space after the end of period ending a sentence, the reader doesn't necessarily get the sense that a new sentence has started. This is particularly true if you were typing in all caps, as might be common on some types of forms or documents. Two spaces, however, does the job nicely. In theory, with modern proportional-width fonts, this is unnecessary. Rylon (talk) 23:36, 1 November 2013 (UTC)
Here's the researched explanation: http://www.heracliteanriver.com/?p=324 So technically, an em-space after a period, an en-space after a comma. Or you know, whatever you want. 06:22, 17 July 2015 (UTC)

even though i learned typing on a typewriter, to this day i had never heard of the double space thing. maybe it's a US only thing, like the stupid french with spaces BEFORE punctuation marks. Peter (talk) 07:54, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

I've always taken the double-space thing as a US thing. Some editors like emacs default to it, which is really annoying. That said, as a frenchman, the "space before punctuation" is normal to me and it is part of the codified typography -- and I think this is actually an important distinction to make. Is this double-space vs single-space something codified somehow? As a last word, I need to be nitpicky: the exact French typography rule is "a space before punctuation made of two parts (namely colon, semi-colon, exclamation/question mark) and no space before punctuation made of a single part (dots, commas.)" It's a very deterministic rule that is easy to apply (whether one agrees to it or not.) Ralfoide (talk) 16:40, 1 November 2013 (UTC)
This is a common question from the French and some other nationals. The answer is that English does not work that way. There is no official codified version. The most you have is small pockets of codification within an organization, such as The University of Boulder, or UPI or the US Army. If you're working in or with such an organization you should use their standard. If you try to extend any such standard to the rest of the world you are a nasty egomanical control freak who should be chopped into pieces and fed to the fishes.-- 18:25, 4 November 2013 (UTC)

As a german typographer I have to say I’m shocked! Two spaces per period? A space before punctuation?! My scientific opinion: you all are completely crazy ;-) (Just kidding, but seriously, two spaces? In Germany, the first possibility to do that safely is your last will …) Quoti (talk) 10:34, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

The doubled spaces appear in my browser's tooltips. (Maybe someone should add some non breaking spaces to the quotation of the tooltip text?) -- 10:45, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

As a(n automatic) two-spacer person (just you watch, I'll use 'em here, despite it obviously not being rendered), it's just what I learnt, back in the '70s, here in the UK. I've no idea why I learnt it. However, it may stem from the same root as the 'rule' in handwriting (not biros, but nibbed pens dipped in ink... wow, I feel old, but it was at primary school) that we use a gap as big as our our (very little) little-fingers to separate sentences. I imagine differentiating full-stops (US: periods) from commas in the messy medium of ink might be a valuable visual indicator as to what a given smudge might actually be. So, anyway, double-spacing. On the other hand I should report that, "I've dropped the habit it of appropriate punctuation prior to quotes," I say, "despite being the way I learnt it." And instead I will drop "<- Commas from that sort of position," you see, "even through I'll keep the ones that are semantic pauses." You see how my standards are slipping? Anyway, good comic. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled programme. 14:44, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

I'm in the same boat this this bloke. I don't get the typewriter tie in. I seem to recall being taught to use a finger gage correct gap of whitespace to leave between the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next. This was in an American small town southern school in the early 1980s. I assume it was for readability. 16:16, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

The "third way" is used for articles on the BBC News website :-) -- 14:52, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

Actually, they put each sentence into a paragraph of its own, which is yet different. (In HTML: <p>... .</p> vs. ... .<br />) --Das-g (talk) 16:07, 1 November 2013 (UTC)
That's what I came here to say, that the Third Way is common-place on the web today, it is the tabloid style. This headline article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24775846 off the BBC right now only has full-stops (periods in en-US) before paragraph breaks, apart from quotations (ie what the BBC did not write). 16:11, 1 November 2013 (UTC)
The BBC is not the only web site to do that - and it is so annoying. 10:15, 2 November 2013 (UTC)
There's a FOURTH way! I receive a "Weekly Update from Senator Tim Scott" HTML formatted email about once a week (unsurprisingly) which, in lieu of spaces between words, uses a carriage return and a linefeed. This alleviates the question of how many spaces between sentences completely! It also renders as oneverylongword in my email client. Ie:
Thankyouforsubscribingtomye-newsletter. 16:16, 1 November 2013 (UTC)
And a fifth: In France, they use one whitespace before and after double punctions (:;?!) but only one whitespace after single punctuation (.,). -- 20:15, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

I think the finger space was to help kids create clear separation while developing their proficiency at penmanship. I think the 2x space is a fall out from the fixed width formatting of typewriters to help assist the reader (or proof reader) with the start and end of a sentence. Double spacing has almost become OCD for me. I can't help it. Of course I also leave paragraph marks on while I type as well. I wonder if the French would require a space before a double quote, "The author ponders. "

I think we could improve old school cryptography if we just used carriage returns and ignored the 'new' line. I might be able to accept and adopt the single space rule if I can make my spaces default to twice the point size of every other character in the style. 19:00, 1 November 2013 (UTC)


I have my word processor set to a a gap equal to one and a half spaces after a sentence ends173.245.52.198 19:05, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

New paragraph (TWO line brakes) after every sentence :-) --Sten (talk) 20:36, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

I love how the explanation uses the third method. Nice touch. JRDeBo (talk) 23:29, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

Does anyone think there's any significance to the sword and the spear? 23:46, 2 November 2013 (UTC)

Yes, because this is a SERIOUS ISSUE. Alpha (talk) 06:35, 4 November 2013 (UTC)
A sword has a longer blade, while a spear keeps people further away. 12:45, 4 November 2013 (UTC)

According to the [Fire Emblem weapon triangle], the 1-spacers win against the 2-spacers. Then again, I put one space after each sentence. Greyson (talk) 18:25, 4 November 2013 (UTC)

Picture of a cat after every full stop  !!! (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

With all the whitespace compression and variable width fonts in modern technology switching back to 2-space is as viable as switching over to localized Programmer Dvorak. 13:44, 6 November 2013 (UTC)

Hey, does anyone know if there's any way to make the wiki keep two spaces in a row, so the title text shows up properly? Just some random derp 15:46, 7 July 2015 (UTC)

I was mildly confused about the weird phrasing of "This comic refers to the dance-off occurring ..." I already forgot my browser plugin that I've installed an hour ago. I think its great that it happened on a xkcd-related site. -- 12:41, 13 May 2016 (UTC)

I'm not from the US so I never actually heard about a rule with two spaces. From my point of view the rule is stupid, really dumb. Just let go of it! There is no reason for it. My brain starts to spasm when I hear about a rule of two spaces after a period. Ungh!! (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The 2 spaces used in (early) PCs and TypeWriters (and TTYs) could be caused by the too little difference between a «.» and a «,» with little fonts on CRTs (320*200px with 8*8px single letter with <16" monitors with a signal trought an RF cable, for a C64), dot-printers (like 60*75 dpi (h*v), 9*9 per character, for an Epson MX-80) and typewritten sheets (maybe with dirty sort/type)? [The examples in parentheses are for a mid-level-case, because there are worst monitors and standards than those, see previous comments] Nickh²+, 00:11, 10 November 2016 (UTC) .

Well, looks like the one-spacers will win due to the weapon triangle. After all, lances best swords. 16:54, 17 January 2019 (UTC)

Do line breakers count as axes or staves? Netherin5 (talk) 14:06, 19 March 2019 (UTC)

I just realized that there's a line break after ever sentence in this article. (Insert formatting here)

It’s four tildes (~ Those guys) to sign your comment. Netherin5 (talk) 14:06, 19 March 2019 (UTC)

I have an easy solution to the debate. Just press the TAB key after each sentence (doesn't work here, because of editing reasons).

google docs actually enforces the one space style for capitalization.

Is it just me, or is the wiki intentionally using the third way? (I'm a one-spacer. See?

WHy did you not close the bracket :( Beanie talk 10:38, 9 June 2021 (UTC)
You opened another parenthesie! ):) --PoolloverNathan[talk]UTSc 18:33, 29 October 2021 (UTC)

0 spaces after a period.yes.Sci0927 (talk) 15:01, 20 December 2021 (UTC)

Interesting…I was always told that after an abbreviation like Mr. or Mrs. within a sentence, you were supposed to use a single space, and then after a sentence you would double space. Thus you would always have a clear visual indicator of whether a period was indicating an abbreviation or an end of sentence. Makes total sense, is entirely consistent, just like that weird French rule about spacing before double punctuation. Truly, has no one else here heard of this? Thatʼs why Iʼm inclined (prior to doing any research) to be in full agreement with the protestor saying that the monospaced font myth is totally made up. That being said, I also see it as a complete and total waste of good programming on the part of whoever it was who even bothered to cause HTML, et al to reduce extra whitespace in the first place! Imho, it should never have even occurred to them to write those lines of code at all. People should be free to write their whitespace exactly the way they want it and have it stay that way, without some web browser daring to presume that it knows the correct formatting better than the user does. smh lol Heleatunda (talk) 06:37, 28 September 2023 (UTC)

With the decline of "Mrs. Brown" compared with "Mrs Brown" (and initialisms not being dotted, all along; so not "N.A.S.A." but "NASA", and then examples like this even reduced to "Nasa"), the imperative to disambiguate isn't there. I was taught to write with more space (a little finger's-worth, when my little finger was much littler than today), for readability or even easy checking that there weren't any horribly-long run-on sentences.
I'd carry that on into <dot><space><space> when typing (and word-processing), but it is one of the 'rules' that I've felt unnecessary (or even not useful) to maintain after entering the online ecosystem (pre-HTML) and seeing how many perfectly legible but varied typing styles there actually were out there. Even from such benighted lands such as the rebellious former colonies, which I'll admit have introduced me to many small changes to my British styling, and occasionally even spelling (though I'm still solidly an "-our" suffix person, "metre" for length and will continue to go with "-ise"/"-yse", as I see fit, etc). 09:02, 28 September 2023 (UTC)