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A ligature occurs where two or more letterforms are written or printed as a unit. Generally, ligatures replace characters that occur next to each other when they share common components. Ligatures are a subset of a more general class of figures called ``contextual forms.'' Contextual forms describe the case where the particular shape of a letter depends on its context (surrounding letters, whether or not it's at the end of a line, etc.).

One of the most common ligatures is ``fi''. Since the dot above a lowercase 'I' interferes with the loop on the lowercase 'F', when 'f' and 'i' are printed next to each other, they are combined into a single figure with the dot absorbed into the 'f'.

An example of a more general contextual form is the greek lowercase sigma. When typesetting greek, the selection of which 'sigma' to use is determined by whether or not the letter occurs at the end of the word (i.e., the final position in the word).

[Ed: there is no ``complete'' set of ligatures.]

Excerpted from The comp.fonts FAQ, Copyright © 1992-96 by Norman Walsh