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 mak­ers in­cluded lig­a­tures with their fonts, which com­bined the trou­ble­some let­ters into one piece of type.

The most com­mon lig­a­tures in­volve the low­er­case f be­cause of its un­usual 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. Lig­a­tures are manda­tory only when you have an ac­tual over­lap be­tween the let­ters f and i. Check this com­bi­na­tion in the bold and italic styles too.

fi fj fl ffi gg gyok
fi fj fl ffi gg gywrong
fi fj fl ffi gg gyright

The font in the first row, Con­course, has an fi com­bi­na­tion that doesn’t col­lide. That font will work fine with­out lig­a­tures. But Eq­uity, in the sec­ond row, has fi (and other) 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 be­stow a some­what quaint or old-fash­ioned look on body text. 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).

PagesViewShow Toolbar (or op­tion + ⌘ + t) → Document but­ton → Document pane → Ligatures

CSSEn­able the Open­Type fea­ture liga, or use the short­hand prop­erty text-ren­der­ing: op­ti­mize­Leg­i­bil­ity (or bet­ter still, both)

by the way
  • Is it pos­si­ble to in­sert lig­a­tures man­u­ally? Yes. You can ei­ther in­sert them as you type from a char­ac­ter palette, or you can search and re­place at the end. In HTML, you can en­ter the es­cape codes for the lig­a­ture glyphs. But I don’t rec­om­mend this. Man­ual lig­a­tures can con­fuse spelling check­ers, hy­phen­ation en­gines, and search in­dex­ers, and gen­er­ally cause more prob­lems than they solve.

  • 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 am­pu­tates two per­fectly good let­ters to make one un­gainly hy­brid. Pure frip­pery. Worse, be­cause Th is such a com­mon let­ter com­bi­na­tion, this lig­a­ture shows up all the time in body text. Just say no. (To the lig­a­ture, but also to Min­ion—see Min­ion al­ter­na­tives.)

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