ligaturesOptional unless the letters f and i collide

Lig­a­tures were in­vented to solve a prac­ti­cal type­set­ting prob­lem. In the days of metal fonts, cer­tain char­ac­ters had fea­tures that phys­i­cally col­lided with other char­ac­ters. To fix this, font foundries cast lig­a­tures, which com­bined the trou­ble­some let­ters into one piece of type.

The most com­mon lig­a­tures in­volve the low­er­case f be­cause of its over­hang­ing shape. Other lig­a­tures also ex­ist—some prac­ti­cal, some dec­o­ra­tive, some ridiculous.

Dig­i­tal fonts don’t have phys­i­cal col­li­sions, of course. But cer­tain let­ter com­bi­na­tions might still over­lap vi­su­ally. The only time lig­a­tures are manda­tory is when you have an ac­tual over­lap be­tween the let­ters f and i. Check this com­bi­na­tion in the bold and italic styles too.

The fonts in the first row above have fi com­bi­na­tions that don’t col­lide. Those fonts will work fine with­out lig­a­tures. But the fonts in the sec­ond row have fi col­li­sions. Turn on lig­a­tures to cor­rect these col­li­sions, as seen in the third row.

Be­yond that, lig­a­tures are largely a styl­is­tic choice. To my eye, they can make body text look some­what quaint or old-fash­ioned. If you like that look, great. I don’t. So un­less char­ac­ters are ac­tu­ally col­lid­ing, I gen­er­ally keep lig­a­tures turned off.

How to turn on ligatures

WordRight-click in the text and se­lect Font from the menu. Click the Advanced tab. Next to Ligatures, se­lect Standard Only (or one of the more elab­o­rate options).

Word­Per­fectDoes not sup­port au­to­matic ligatures.

If you’re hav­ing a doc­u­ment pro­fes­sion­ally de­signed (e.g., busi­ness cards or let­ter­head), you can spec­ify lig­a­tures—prob­a­bly wise if you work at Pfiffner & Pif­fle LLP.

by the way
  • Is it pos­si­ble to in­sert lig­a­tures man­u­ally? Yes, but it’s a bad idea. Man­u­ally en­tered lig­a­tures can con­fuse your spell-checker and hy­phen­ation en­gine and gen­er­ally cause more prob­lems than they solve.

  • De­spite the name, lig­a­tures don’t al­ways con­nect two glyphs—some­times they cre­ate sep­a­ra­tion, as in the italic gy ligature.

  • I men­tioned ridicu­lous lig­a­tures—at the top of my list is the Th lig­a­ture in­cluded among the de­fault lig­a­tures in cer­tain Adobe fonts, like Min­ion. It’s frip­pery, am­pu­tat­ing two per­fectly good let­ters to make one un­gainly hy­brid. Worse, be­cause Th is such a com­mon let­ter com­bi­na­tion, this lig­a­ture shows up all the time in body text. Just say no. 

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