I came across the following text while going through TeX documentation:


This command is used to separate letters which would normally ligature. For example fi is produced with f\textcompwordmark i. Note that the f and i have not ligatured to produce fi. This is rarely useful in English (shelfful is a rare example of where it might be used) but is used in languages such as German.

Since ligature was a new word for me, I immediately referenced my dictionary and found that:

Noun: ligature

Character consisting of two or more letters combined into one

Wikipedia entry shows an example as:

high-resolution image of fi and fl ligatures

So, it means that the horizontal cross line in f is merged with the next character. But, I do not see something similar happening in the text when shelfful is being written. I'd assume that the horizontal lines of both fs in ff would get merged when writing, but this should be happening to each and every word which has ff appearing in them.

Why is such that all references (at least the ones I saw) only point out shelfful to be the rare example? Why not scaffold or afford or effort etc.?

PS: For the scope of this question, I'm restricting to ligatures with the leading character f only.

  • 6
    As a question about English typography conventions, this has nothing to do with learning English. Sep 2 '15 at 3:51
  • 1
    @200_success: The answer reveals it to be a semantic consideration, based on whether it is, or isn't, a conglomeration of two independent words. This seems as relevant as discussions of hyphenation. Sep 2 '15 at 4:21
  • @NathanTuggy Either way, I don't think this is a topic for ELL. I would bet that 99% of native English speakers would be unaware. It's also a non-issue in spoken English, hand-written English, and in typical computer text such as e-mail. Sep 2 '15 at 4:27
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    I'm neither particularly for nor against whether this question is on-topic or not (because I believe that we can take it both ways), but I'd like to add my idea from a learner's point of view. It's true that ligature is typographical term, and that may make this question off-topic. On the other hand, many of our users, I believe, learn English for their education, and it's quite likely that they will run into the word ligature when they have to typeset their essays, theses, or dissertations in their academic writing, and knowing what ligature means can be useful or even crucial, imho. Sep 2 '15 at 7:52

Shelfful is different from scaffold because it is a compound word (shelf + full), so the two f's are truly separate. Removing the ligature between the f's re-emphasizes this construction. Selffulfilling is another one that makes a little more sense without the ligature (selffulfilling).

Not all fonts ligature anyways, so in my browser shelffull and "shelffull" have a ligature, but monospaced fonts (shelffull shelffull) do not.

(see image below)

enter image description here

EDIT: Ahhh....apparently some designers do offer monospaced fonts with ligatures - Nathan Tuggy gives Monoid as an example.

  • 2
    Note that some monospaced fonts (e.g. Monoid) do have ligatures. It's just a matter of designer taste. Sep 1 '15 at 22:48

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