Empty space is also a punctuation mark!

Sreedhar Mandyam

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If I ask you to list the punctuation marks in English, you are most likely to say, period, comma, colon, semicolon, question mark, exclamation mark, capitalization, hyphen, the dash, quotation marks (single and double), parentheses or brackets, and the apostrophe. No one really lists empty space as a punctuation mark. Punctuation marks are meant to enhance the meaning of a written sentence. What the tone, the pause, the facial expression, the raised eyebrow, the hand gesture, convey in spoken language are translated into the written language by the punctuation mark.

The empty space is also an important punctuation mark. It can be at times wrongly used in a written sentence. One obvious use of space is between words. In the spoken language the words are separated by the speaker and by the listener without any doubt. Where one-word ends and another begins is very clear. (You cannot bring in Arnold S’s speech from Rambo here). One single space is used between words. A single space on your computer would mean press of the space bar only once. This everyone knows.

STOP IT!

The end of the sentence is denoted by a period, question mark or the exclamation mark. Again no space between the last letter in the sentence and the end of the sentence mark. But there should be a space after the period, question mark and the exclamation mark and the word following it.

Correct form
We went to London, Paris, Hamburg and Tokyo. We also went to…

Wrong form

We went to London, Paris, Hamburg and Tokyo .We also went to…
We went to London, Paris, Hamburg and Tokyo.We also went to…

TAKE A BREATH

No space between the end of the word and the comma following it. But there is always a space after the period or the comma and the next word.

Correct form
We went to London, Paris, Hamburg and Tokyo.

Wrong forms
We went to London , Paris , Hamburg and Tokyo.
We went to London,Paris,Hamburg and Tokyo.

What about colon or semicolon? Do you give a space between the word and the colon or semicolon? Should we give a space after the colon and before the word that follows it? Which of the following is correct?

Definition :Force is defines as…
Definition:Force is defined as…
Definition: Force is defined as…

Many people make the error of giving an extra space between the word and the colon or no space after the colon and the word following it. There should be no space between the colon and the word before it but there should be a space between the colon and the word following. The third example in the above list is correct. The same applies to the use of a semicolon.

QUOTE ME

The quotation marks both single and double also tend to confuse some people. Should we write, “This is correct” or “ This is correct “? The rule here is again no space between the opening quotation mark and the word that follows it. No space between the last letter and the closing quotation mark that follows it, but space after the closing quotation mark and the next word if any.
In a hyphenated word, there is no space on either side of the hyphen. The correct way to write is up-to-date and not up – to – date. Mother-in-law not Mother – in – law.

The Apostrophe mark that indicates possession also should be placed immediately at the end of the word without any intervening space. It is Geeta’s not Geeta ‘ s.
The moment you open parenthesis, the word should follow without any space. There should again be no space between the last letter and the closing parenthesis following it. The correct form is (name) not ( name ), (28) not ( 28 ).

Summary

  • No space between the word and the punctuation mark following it (period, comma, colon, semicolon, question mark, exclamation mark, closing quotes, closing brackets).
  • No space between the punctuation mark and the word following it – opening brackets, quotation marks.
  • Space after a comma, period, colon, semicolon, question mark, exclamation mark, closing quotation mark, closing parenthesis and the word following it.