9

I often see questions, exclamations, or sentences written with a space before punctuation marks (specifically ,, :, ?, and !), but I usually see these without the space. Which is correct? Are both correct? If not, what's wrong with the incorrect way?

Some examples include:

Some examples include :
How do I do that ?
Alice , Bob , and Carol are here !

Which I usually see written as

Some examples include:
How do I do that?
Alice, Bob, and Carol are here!

  • 6
    A narrow space before these points (and ;) was common in pre-WWII printing; it is I believe ordinary practice in French; but it is now prohibited in formal writing in English. Which is a pity: because in many if not most digital faces the points are hard to discern and have far too little separation from what precedes them. – StoneyB Apr 2 '13 at 17:46
  • @StoneyB We called that a thin space, and the geezer who taught me to cast lead called it an rch (although I learned later that an rch is even narrower than a thin space.) Can you point to an authoritative, current, understandable-to-a-tyro reference on English punctuation? The ones I've found so far are either specific to computer typesetting or seem too hard for a tyro to follow. It would be good to have a link at hand. – P. E. Dant Aug 23 '16 at 2:42
  • @P.E.Dant I don't think there is such a thing as an "authoritative" prescriptive work on punctuation. I point by ear: how I want the sentence to be spoken. – StoneyB Aug 23 '16 at 11:46
  • @StoneyB I wasn't clear; it's spacing I'm talking about. I'm looking for a link to provide when something like can't see those error.on the other hand,Do you mean( or if i appears in a question. – P. E. Dant Aug 23 '16 at 20:30
  • @P.E.Dant To tell you the truth, I haven't consulted any reference work on punctuation for at least fifty years. I've done a little poking around in the history of punctuation, but that's mere curiosity. The closest thing I know to an "authority" is tchrist, who can almost always be found in Chat on ELU; he always has strong (and as far as I can tell sound) aesthetic opinions about typography. – StoneyB Aug 23 '16 at 21:56
7

For the punctuation marks for which you are asking the question (comma, colon, question mark, and exclamation point), they are written without any space before them, and with a space after them.

This is what you need: canned tuna fish, tomatoes, beans, olive oil, onions, parsley, and garlic.
I cannot believe it! You are accusing me of something you did!
What time is it? I am hungry.

The same is true for the semicolon and the period.

As for what's wrong with the wrong way, it is just not how punctuation marks are used nowadays. If you put a space before the exclamation point, I would think you are French, and that you are writing in English using the punctuation marks as you would in French, since in French you normally write a space before the exclamation point or the question mark.

  • Another guess is that users of their electronic devices press space to trigger autocorrect on their words. – Therkel May 10 '16 at 18:22
3

Usually, the correct usage is not to put a space before the punctuation. Opening parentheses are an exception:

This is the correct usage:

I went to the store to get some sunscreen (it's sunny out).

How do I do that?

This is incorrect:

I went to the store to get some sunscreen( it's sunny out).

How do I do that ?

  • 4
    English has several pairs of punctuation marks that wrap text. The opening item is inserted immediately before the wrapped text. Usually this placement is after one or more spaces. For example: 'single quotes', "double quotes", (parentheses), <angle brackets>, [square brackets], and {curly braces}. – Jasper Aug 22 '14 at 6:02
  • There is no such thing as a "curly brace." They are neither curly nor pointy nor flowery nor squiggly nor squirrelly. The term "curly brace" must have been invented by a person who couldn't (because of poor vision, perhaps) differentiate among a parenthesis: (, a bracket: [, and a brace: {. – P. E. Dant Aug 21 '16 at 21:23
  • 1
    @P.E.Dant: I think it's more for clarification when talking to people who aren't familiar with typography. Also, they absolutely are curly. – Dan Aug 22 '16 at 21:39
  • My daughter's hair is curly. A brace is not curly. If anything, it is pointy. – P. E. Dant Aug 22 '16 at 21:43
  • @P.E.Dant I disagree. It looks pretty curly to me. – Clonkex Aug 14 '18 at 0:34

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