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A reading a modern paperback book on Amazon I came across this: Ligatures in modern novels

As I was reading, I had to look twice at the words "fist" and "fire," but sure enough, the print was not an "f" and "i", but the fi ligature. Look at the word "front" to prove the point. This, in a novel printed in 2016.

This has been concerning me as a steampunk author looking at my first publication. My Victorian setting has quite a few words, such as æthergram, that require ligatures if they are to be done right.

Am I looking at problems with my publisher going this route? Or can anyone think of the unintended consequences of using ligatures in modern print?

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There's a difference between typographic ligatures (also called stylistic ligatures), such as fi, fl, ffi, and ct which are seen in some typefaces, and lexical ligatures, such as æ and œ. The latter are a matter of spelling, in your control as the author, while the former are a matter of typesetting, best left to the book designer.

Use your lexical ligatures, and allow the typesetter to care about the typographic ones. That's all you need to know. Below the line is extra stuff you may find interesting.


There's a lot of complexity here. For example, in Old English and Old Swedish, æ was not considered a ligature of a and e, but a letter in its own right (called ash). (And it still is in Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese.) Also, some typographic ligatures are included as separate characters in Unicode. (Properly, speaking, you should just type the two letters f i, and the font designer should take care that they're presented correctly, which may mean as a ligature. You shouldn't need to select the fi character yourself. The fact that it exists at all as a separate character is an artefact of history from the times when fonts weren't clever enough to tweak the look of characters depending on their context.) Of course, this is further complicated by languages such as Turkish and Armenian, where there is a difference between dotted and dotless i, so a ligature which obscures the dot on the i should be avoided. Some ability for the author to control such ligatures is therefore necessary, and good typesetting or word processing software should provide it.

Note that in the font currently used on this site, the fi ligature exists, but does not actually connect the characters: it just draws them close together. However, if you type the two separate characters, fi, it looks the same.

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  • Since the design of the site has changed, my final paragraph is no longer accurate. The fi ligature now looks quite distinct from the two letters side by side. And it does obscure the dot on the i, so would be unsuitable for Turkish or Armenian.
    – TRiG
    Jun 14, 2023 at 10:31
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In digital printing, how ligatures work is part of the font definition. To get an idea of to what extent you can push that, have a look at "Sans Bullshit Sans", a font that replaces entire buzzwords with a single glyph.

I'm not sure what exactly you mean by "ligatures [..] done right". You want "æthergram" with a ligature, but would you also want one in "algæ" or "ultræfficient" and every other case where there's an a followed by e? In the latter case you might want the font to handle these as a ligature automatically. But if "æthergram" is an exception, then you'll want to indicate ligature glyphs explicitly (as you did in your question).

Either way, as long as you pick the right font for what you want, you shouldn't have a problem. If you convert your manuscript to PDF format and that displays correctly, then publishers should have no problem printing it correctly either.

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