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MathType Tips: "The spacebar doesn't work!" — What to do?

Applies to:

  MathType 6 and later (Windows and Macintosh)


When typing equations, you've noticed the spacebar doesn't work. Instead, it brings up an error message the first time you try to use the spacebar, and beeps every time after that. This is especially troublesome because there are times when you need more space in the equation, such as after the comma in an ordered pair: (xy).


MathType applies the rules of mathematical typesetting as you type. It automatically chooses fonts, style, spacing and position as you enter the equation. You can modify MathType's rules to accommodate your own style, or switch between automatic formatting and plain text modes with a single keystroke. To help you break the habit of typing spaces, the spacebar is disabled most of the time in MathType, so pressing it will have no effect (other than producing that annoying beep!).

You may not have completely read that error message that popped up when you used the spacebar the first time, and since the message only appears once, we've reproduced its text here:

MathType usually ignores the space bar as inserting a space would interfere with its Automatic Formatting feature. MathType's math formatting rules automatically insert one of five different space widths depending on adjacent symbols and templates. You can adjust math spacing by inserting spaces from the Spaces palette.

If you want to type a plain (non-math) English phrase, choose Text from the Style menu. You can then type your phrase with the space bar enabled. Switch back to Math style using the Style menu when you are done.

That's somewhat helpful, but sometimes a picture helps more. This graphic shows 3 of the 5 different spaces that MathType uses in equations:

Back to the original situation...

Hopefully you understand why the spacebar is disabled, but that doesn't change the fact that you'll probably still need to adjust spacing from time to time. Four of MathType's 5 spaces are available on the Spaces and ellipses palette, and these have shortcut keys associated with them:

1-point space: Ctrl+Alt+Space
Thin space: Ctrl+Space
Thick space: Ctrl+Shift+Space
Em space: Ctrl+K, 4

Many times it's sufficient to add a thin space or two, so its shortcut key of Ctrl+Space isn't hard to remember (but you can change it if you want, via MathType's Customize Keyboard dialog). If you find yourself always needing extra space (or less space) in some situations -- such as the ordered pair in the original example -- there's a better way to adjust spacing.

Define Spacing dialog

MathType's Define Spacing dialog, available through the Format menu, lets you control 30 different spacing widths and line thicknesses. For many situations, it makes sense to adjust your settings once, and let them take effect for all future equations. In the case of the ordered pair in our example, scroll through the list until you find Non-operator spacing (% of normal). A good technique for using this dialog is to create an instance of the spacing you want to change, then open the Define Spacing dialog. Change the spacing value, then click Apply and notice the change. When you find an acceptable value, click OK. However, in the case of our ordered pair, changing non-operator spacing not only affects the ordered pair, but named functions and their arguments (like sin, log, etc.). Therefore, in order to make sure that my new non-operator spacing value is acceptable for both situations, I create an example that includes both, and watch both as I make the adjustments. (It doesn't have to make mathematical sense!) If you set a value that doesn't work, choose another value and click Apply again. Don't click OK until what you see is what you want.

If you have a tip that you'd like to pass along to us for possible inclusion in our Tips & Tricks, email us.

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