Grammar Nerd: In Response to a Reader’s Question…
By: Sydnee Bagovich
I was so excited to get my first question from a reader! Interestingly, her question also was part of a conversation that I had with a few friends at a party recently. (Yep—can’t help it. Even at parties, I am talking about grammar.)
You may have noticed that most professional writing (brochures, websites…) includes only one space after the period. Those of us who grew up in the typewriter age and were taught “period, space, space” are wondering…what happened? Where did that come from? When did that rule change? Well, I have an answer, and I suspect that it is not the answer that our reader will like. I know that my friends certainly didn’t like it!
First of all, go from the IBM Selectric and fast-forward to the desktop-publishing age in the 90s with Adobe PageMaker. That was MY introduction to “period, space”. I didn’t give it much thought after that. I figured that it was a change with electronic typesetting, and I accepted it.
As I began my entry into formal proofreading, I was introduced to the Associated Press Stylebook, the industry’s best-selling reference for 30 years, essential for journalists, students, editors and writers in all professions. That is my reference when I have grammar questions. The book has several sections, including one that is dedicated to punctuation. For periods it says to end a sentence with a period followed by a single space. That is what I follow for professional proofreading.
Here’s another one that may give you grief! I learned, probably as many of you did, that in a series, a comma is placed after the final item just before “and”. So, for example, I ordered a filet, potato, and asparagus. Modern day, ah, Associated Press, says that the final comma is not necessary. So: I ordered a filet, potato and asparagus. That one was a little more difficult for me to accept, since I had been taught that the only time NOT to have the final comma was when those last two items went together, such as bread and butter. When I am proofreading, I keep consistent to the Stylebook.
Before you get all worked up, consider this: One of the beauties of grammar is the fact that there are rules; it’s black and white. Another is that some of those rules are grey and allow for a little flexibility. If you think that the list deserves a comma, or if you think that you want to put a pause there, do it! Would you be wrong? No, not wrong, just playing in that grey area. Most of it is black and white, but those who know the rules know that some of it is subject to writer’s interpretation. You might say a little creative license…
I hope that this helps to explain the changes. You now have some background and so can make informed decisions when you write!
If you have a question, if something is tripping you up in the world of grammar, send me an email. I will see if I can help you! email@example.com.