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punctuation: spacing

As a general rule, in English there is no space before and one space after a punctuation mark. Exceptions follow.

Period

No space before or after a decimal period between numerals:

  • 10.6 million Canadians
  • $7.45

A space before and none after a decimal period not preceded by a numeral:

  • a .22 calibre rifle

A space after a period following a person’s initial:

  • W. S. Avis

No space before or after a period in multiple numeration:

  • subsection 2.5.12

No space before or after a period that is followed by a comma or a closing quotation mark, parenthesis or bracket:

  • John Fraser Jr., Ellen Putniak and George Zeller were nominated.
  • (See Chapter 21.)

No space before the periods following the capital letters in the official abbreviations of provinces and territories, and no space after such periods except the last one:

  • P.E.I.
  • Y.T.

Ellipsis points

A space before, between and after ellipsis points:

  • There was little he could say . . . so he said nothing.

Note: There is an alternative format for the ellipsis. It requires no spaces between the ellipsis points (…). However, a space is inserted before and after the ellipsis when it is used between two words (“Interviews … have”), between a comma and a word (“In fact, … we have”), or between end punctuation and the beginning of a new sentence (“fell drastically. … But”).

Question mark and exclamation mark

No space before or after a question or exclamation mark that is followed by a closing quotation mark, parenthesis or bracket:

  • The delegate added, "Is it not high time we tightened our belts and dealt with the deficit?"

Comma

No space before or after a comma that is followed by a closing quotation mark:

  • "Stop procrastinating," she said.
  • The terms "interfacing," "conferencing" and "downsizing" are now part of the language of business.

No space before or after a comma used to separate triads in numbers (see Note 2 in 5.09 Decimal fractions):

  • $12,670,233

Colon

No space before or after a colon used to express ratios or the time of day in the 24-hour system, or to separate chapter and verse, volume and page, act and scene in references to books, plays, etc.:

  • a slope of 1:4
  • We arrived at 15:30
  • Psalms 39:5

Parentheses and brackets

One space before and none after an opening parenthesis or bracket within a sentence; no space before or after a closing parenthesis or bracket that is followed by a punctuation mark:

  • Please read the enclosed booklet (Using Your Modem); it will help you take full advantage of your new communication tool.

No space before or between parentheses enclosing subsections, paragraphs, subparagraphs, etc., in citations from legislation:

  • subparagraph 123(4)(b)(ii)

Em dash, en dash and hyphen

No space before or after these marks when they are inserted between words, a word and a numeral, or two numerals:

  • I will support you in any way I can—even to the point of silence.
    —Eugene Forsey
  • a few 90-cent stamps
  • pp. 134–200

Oblique

No space before or after an oblique used between individual words, letters or symbols; one space before and after the oblique when it is used between longer groups that contain internal spacing:

  • n/a
  • Language and Society / Langue et société

Apostrophe

No space before or after an apostrophe within a word.

One space before and none after an apostrophe used to indicate omitted figures in dates:

  • the committee’s report
  • the employees’ suggestions
  • the class of ’79

Quotation marks

One space before and none after an opening quotation mark within a sentence; no space before or after a closing quotation mark that is followed by a punctuation mark:

  • The Minister spoke of "a full and frank discussion with all parties"; a resolution to the conflict is expected within the week.

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