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August 13, 2008

Spaced Out

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

What is the nature of space? No, not outer space. I’m speaking of the spaces between words.

It’s the typesetting nature of a word processor that makes it necessary to press one space after a sentence instead of two; two spaces are a typewriter thing and help to make monospaced, typewritten text more readable. On a word processor, where proportional space rules the day, two spaces aren’t necessary.

What is a space anyway? In Word, there are actually three different types of spaces, similar to the way that there are three different types of dashes. They even share the same names.

A regular space is a space. It’s produced by pressing the spacebar. Duh.

Next comes the en space. Like an en dash, the en space is the same width as the lower case N in whatever font you’re using.

Finally, there is the longest space, the em space. It’s the exact width of the lower case M, just like an em dash.

Here are the three types of spaces, sandwiched between a set of little Xs:


Unlike the dashes, however, there are no predefined keyboard shortcuts for the en or em spaces. Instead, they must be manually inserted using the Symbol dialog box.

1a. In Word 2007, click the Insert tab and choose the More Symbols command from the Symbol menu

1b. In older versions of Word, choose Insert>Symbol.

2. In the Symbol dialog box, click the Special Characters tab.

You’ll see three types of spaces listed: Em Space, En Space, and the 1/4 Em Space. As you might have guessed, the 1/4 Em Space is 25% the width of the Em Space. Keep in mind that the space size is set by the font you’re using; the bigger the font, the larger the spaces.

You can use the Symbol dialog box to assign keyboard shortcuts to the En and Em Space characters. Details for doing so are found in my book, Word For Dummies.

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