Is an italic space different from a roman space?

My law journal’s style guide required editors to ensure that spaces between italicized signals and the citation that follows are not italicized.

For example, if the footnote was “See Marbury v. Madison …,” editors were required to ensure that the space between “See” and “Marbury” was not italicized.

This was extremely time consuming, and no one offered a satisfactory reason for doing so. Can anyone enlighten me? Is an italicized space different from a roman space?

In case it’s relevant, our journal used the “Legal Modern” typeface.

I’ve always found it best to enter the text of a line first, then go back and set only the text that needs the attributes like Italicizing, Bold, etc., after the fact. This ensures only the text you actually want attributes gets the attributes and not any following spaces before or after.

The reason for this is that you’re dealing with ‘Attributed Text’ in Word or Pages. This is what allows you to have Character Styles inside Paragraph Styles.

When you set, say a word to Italics, the embedded style begins with the first character through the last character. Thus a space in front the the attributed test is normal. If you type in a word without a space after it and italicize the word, then put the cursor after the last character and start typing the text that follows is also italic.

Bottom line is to make sure you have regular Body text following anything you want to apply special attributes to, then go back and add the attributes you need by only selecting the text you want the attributes applied too.

As Matthew has made perfectly clean you do not add attributes to leading single or double quotes, only the text inside them.

Hope this is helpful.


Thanks, Max.

I agree that the procedure you’ve suggested is best practice when drafting.

Generally, though, our journal’s role was to edit already-drafted legal scholarship. Our style guide demanded that we highlight every space between an italicized word and subsequent roman text and ensure that the space character itself was not italicized.

Really, I’m curious whether—apart from dictating the next character’s style—there is any practical difference between an italicized space and a roman space?


Maybe Matthew would know the answer to that as he’s designed more than one Typeface.

The designed width of each glyph in a Font is the designers choice but I would reason that since a ‘space’ character is basically invisible, but still has a designed width, I see no reason to mess with it and make it a different width in the Italic version. If there is a reason otherwise Maybe Matthew can chime in on that.

If only one word in a sentence is italicized then only the characters in that word should be set to Italic style and not the space characters that surround it. The same applies when italics are applied to words within quotes. You only italicize the word(s) and not the quotes.

The only reason I could imagine is that since an italic version has a rightward slant it could appear to be closer to a non-italic character to the right when separated by a space.


An oversight, to be sure. Thanks for your insights.

My understanding is that law reviews have a lot of rules primarily intended to drive new members crazy and thereby ensure their loyalty and docility. The typographic difference, however, is that the italic space is likely to be narrower than the roman space. Also, there may be a kern between the roman space and the roman letter that follows (could be visually meaningful if that letter is T or V or W, all common initials). Kerning doesn’t work between characters of different styles.

Does all of this, in practice, amount to a visual difference anyone would notice? Probably not. Though as someone who works with a lot of documents computationally, uniform formatting is helpful. For that matter, the best way to accomplish correction is through some add-on software, not by torturing a 2L.

That is the general policy, but if it produces a collision between the italicized text and the surrounding punctuation, I might italicize the punctuation to cure the collision.

Thanks very much for replying, Matthew. I’m a big fan of Typography for Lawyers and reference it often.

If you have any off-the-cuff suggestions for add-on software that can correct italicized spaces, I’d be all ears. I’m practicing now, but would love to forward a solution to the current members.

At any rate, it’s helpful to know that some typographic reason underpins the practice—even if more efficient methods exist.

Thanks again.

Even Microsoft Word can search & replace based on formatting. For instance, the “Advanced Find and Replace” box below has been set up to replace all italic spaces with roman ones using the Format popup menu at the bottom.

I assume there is add-on software—implemented in Visual Basic, probably, that runs inside the app—that would let you save this search for later reuse, or make it possible to run it over a batch of documents.