I find the spacing of footnote marks after punctuation marks quite unsatisfactory, especially with sans serif fonts and compared to the spacing after letters. Example follows:

normal footnotes

I came up with a little macro myself that tries to amend this manually.

% URW Classico is a font that makes the issue apparent
% define punctuation-aware footnote macro
% define a very small type area and don't care about margins
\noindent The three little pigs built their houses
out of straw\punctuationfootnote{not to be confused with hay},
sticks\footnote{or lumber according to some sources} and
bricks\punctuationfootnote{probably fired clay bricks}.

This will look like this:

full compensation of punctuation marks

I have to say, I didn't like this either. So I fiddled around a bit and set back the footnote marks by a half

half-width compensation

and a third of the width of the punctuation mark.

third-width compensation

Personally, I like the look of the last (-.3\punctuationfootlength) the best. But I'm a bit concerned that nobody ever seemed to have shared my opinion on this and if anything put a hair space between a letter and a footnote mark but never decreased the kerning. So if any typography guru here could put me straight on this matter that would be great. I'm also happy about anyone's second or third opinion on this.

Edit: Originally I also asked for a better way to TeX this here. As this is a separate question however, I moved it here.

Edit 3: That question led to a new package, fnpct, which should be used to automatically adapt footnote kerning in your LaTeX document.

Edit 2: Jon's comment caused me to succumb to the temptation I had all along of trying an additional intermediate between solutions 2 and 3. It seems like a ridiculously small change but here is -.4\punctuationfootlength:

enter image description here

Can't decide though. After a bit of pondering, I think I like the 3 a bit closer than the 1 which doesn't make things easier I guess.

  • 2
    You seem to define \punctuationfootnote to have two arguments, but then the macro is called with only one argument, viz., the content of the footnote. Am I missing something? Or is the second argument the punctuation mark? If so, it might be cleaner if you surrounded the punctuation mark with curly braces to make this setup explicit. By the way, the font "URW Classico" would appear to be a clone of Hermann Zapf's famous "Optima" font.
    – Mico
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 13:26
  • Yes, the punctuation mark is the second argument and in this case I find the sentence more readable when keeping the punctuation marks visually outside the footnote macro. URW Classico is indeed an Optima clone but one that is free-as-in-beer for LaTeX. I can hardly expect people here to own or buy Optima just to reproduce my example.
    – Christian
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 13:38
  • 1
    Not sure about this arrangement. Beyond Mico's point, which I agree with, this does not make for maintainable code: everytime you edit your text you run the risk of having to change \footnote to \punctuationfootnote and vice-versa. It gets even worse if you end up publishing in a European journal, where the expectation is that the footnotemark goes inside the punctuation mark! Also, while the first option looks ridiculous, I'm not convinced that the third is an (amazing) improvement over the default setup: are the complications worth the changes in appearance?
    – jon
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 16:24
  • @jon I agree that an automatic adjustment would be much better but since I don't know how to do this, \punctuationfootnote it is. Do I take it that you prefer the second option? Actually, collecting different aesthetic opinions on this was meant to be part of the question. Lastly, I don't understand what you mean by "footnotemark goes inside the punctuation mark". Is it "texttext\footnote{foo}."? This would further argue for omitting the {} of the second argument I guess but that's just a matter of taste anyway.
    – Christian
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 16:47
  • Oh, sorry. I guess the third option is best for me, but it doesn't look so much better (if at all) that it is worth the extra effort. As for some journals, the expectation is that the footnotemark would go: text text text¹. Sometimes, you'll even see it surrounded by parentheses (and maybe not superscript --- which looks really weird). My point is that you should think about where the writing will end up and work within the conventions/expectations of that forum. As for an 'automatic' solution, you should look at biblatex's punctuation tracker: perhaps it can be turned to your needs.
    – jon
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 17:02

2 Answers 2


(Obligatory Bringhurst reference warning)

Bringhurst has a few challenging comments about footnotes, including a mild "don't do that", but the relevant one for this question is (The Elements of Typographic Style, v3.2, pp68-69):

4.3.2 Check the weight and spacing of superscripts. ... "Superscripts frequently come at the ends of phrases or sentences. If they are high above the line, they can be kerned over a comma or [full stop], but this may endanger readability, especially if the text is set in a modest size."

  • I was just trying to remember what it was Bringhurst did say about this and then I found your answer... :)
    – jonalv
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 14:25
  • Thanks, I didn't think of searching for superscripts in general. I also changed the title of the question accordingly. Do I get it right that Bringhurst's "don't do that" refers to footnotes in general?
    – Christian
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 14:48
  • 4
    Yes, he thinks sidenotes are better. "... But the academic habit of relegating notes to the foot of the page or the end of the book is a mirror of Victorian social and domestic practice ...[4.3.1]" Actually, the whole piece is full of LOLs. Commented May 16, 2012 at 15:45
  • Depends on the length of the notes, surely..? If the footnote needs to contain the original text (in the original language, say), then it is impossible to put it in the margins! (Endnotes are no less frustrating for that.)
    – jon
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 16:26
  • 1
    ledmac is better for typesetting real editions of texts. There, in good editions, the footnotes (or 'apparatus') usually consists at least two levels: the 'apparatus criticus' where variants are noted, and the 'apparatus fontium' where citations and allusions to other authors are noted. Other levels might also be appropriate. But I was referring more to normal articles. I just wrote one that has 175 footnotes (in 35 pages), and they contain references to other scholarship, references to medieval texts, and quotations. Footnotes are the reasonable choice --- and demanded by the journal.
    – jon
    Commented May 16, 2012 at 16:38

I guess I'll use a .06em hair space before all regular footnotes as suggested by http://www.read.seas.harvard.edu/~kohler/latex.html (referring to Jan Tschichold) and a negative hair space for punctuation footnotes (actually the link suggests a .08em hair space and .3\punctuationfootlength miraculously turned out to be .0828em but still …). This comes close to the manual kerning I felt best about

manual kerning

The three little pigs built their houses out of 
straw,\hspace{-.06em}\footnote{not to be confused with hay} 
sticks\hspace{.07em}\footnote{or lumber according to some sources} and 
bricks.\hspace{-.08em}\footnote{probably fired clay bricks}

Talk about putting paper between cast metal sorts …

All together this yields

% URW Classico is a font that makes the issue apparent
% define punctuation-aware footnote macro
% define a very small 
\noindent The three little pigs built their houses out of
straw,\punctfootnote{not to be confused with hay}
sticks\footnote{or lumber according to some sources} and
bricks.\punctfootnote{probably fired clay bricks}

which looks like this:

preliminary final kerning

This should also resolve the debate about the order and number of arguments since \punctfootnote became a drop-in replacement for \footnote.

Thanks a lot for your input! Of course further comments are still very welcome.

  • Using \kern-.20em for \punctfootnote will set the number the same space from the text with or without punctuation. This is what I find aesthetically pleasing, and I wanted to share here, just for reference.
    – Atcold
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 19:33

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