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Rules Do Change

Rose W. recently wrote in after noticing that many people seem to be putting only a single space rather than a double space after sentences in their documents. Today, let's rerun Jane's grammar tip from 2007 addressing this and a couple other topics.

Spacing after Periods, Colons, Question Marks, and Exclamation Marks

Originally, typewriters had monospaced fonts (whether letters were skinny or fat, they 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, I promise!

Quotation marks and Punctuation

In Grandma’s day, a period used with quotation marks followed logic: Example: Myrtle said the word “darn”. The period went outside the quote because only the last word was in quotation marks, not the entire sentence. Example: Myrtle said, “I would never say that.” The period went inside the quotation mark because the entire sentence is a quote.

Today, in American English usage, the period always goes inside the quotation mark.

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.

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 normally used in both the singular and plural form.

Example: 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).

In “the old days,” you may have been scolded for starting a sentence with but, and, or because. But you wouldn’t have deserved that scolding. Just make sure that if you start sentences with these words, you follow them with independent clauses.

Good Examples:
But she would never say such a thing!
Because of this bee sting, my arm is swollen.

Bad Examples:

And washed the car.
Because she asked.

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