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Non-breaking spaces

May 5, 2021

Tip: To insert a non-breaking space in Microsoft Word for Windows, press Ctrl+Shift+spacebar

I’m a big fan of non-breaking spaces. They force two things that should be kept together, together, and stop them from splitting at the end of a line onto the next line.

Because I edit technical documents that include values with a measurement unit (e.g. 35 mm), I need to make sure that the value stays with its unit of measure. I also use these special spaces to keep the day and month together (e.g. 24 April), to keep the initial for a genus with the species in Latin binomials (e.g. E. coli; T. rex), and for other elements that must be kept together for readability reasons (e.g. I’d insert a non-breaking space instead of a standard space in each part of this: 100 x 100 m).

Recently, on a Facebook editors’ group, someone asked what members of the group used non-breaking spaces for. Here are some of the various uses gleaned from that discussion:

  • Between currency numbers and their amounts, e.g. $5 million
  • Between initials, like W. E. B. Du Bois
  • Between named events with numbers, e.g. World War I
  • Between names of popes/emperors/kings/queens and their numerals.
  • Between ellipsis dots so they have proper spaces but don’t break over lines
  • Use them in:
    • dates (including eras: AD/BC; BC/BCE; ranges of years)
    • times
    • common Latin notation (e.g. c. 1850)
    • initials
    • titles/honorifics
    • numbers
    • measuring units
    • mathematical equations
    • other scientific notation (e.g. E. coli)
    • legal notation and statutes
    • proper nouns that include a number (e.g. Boeing 757; Mercedes-Benz E450 Cabriolet)
    • addresses (e.g. 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, 10 Downing St)
  • Between day and month or month and day (e.g. 13 April; April 13)
  • Between item numbers and write-on lines (e.g. Complete the sentences: The cat 1) ___ sitting on the mat. It was waiting 2) ___ its dinner.)
  • In legal section citations (e.g. § 15600 et seq.)
  • In biblical verses (e.g. 2 Corinthians 1–2)
  • To prevent a/an at the end of a line
  • Before em dashes to prevent them at the beginning of a line
  • Between ‘I’ and the next word, to keep ‘I’ from being alone at the end of a long line
  • Between a number and a fraction (e.g. 3 ½)

 

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