As part of learning the language, I've noticed that ligatures such as æ and œ are no longer common in English. The ligatures are said to be primarily eschewed in favour of the digraphs ae or oe (mayhap due to technological limitations such as in use of typewriters and ASCII); however, they are not common either in handwritten English. Moreover, Unicode allows us to easily insert such graphemes while typing (e.g. to type those letters on Windows you would press Alt+0198 and Alt+0230 for Æ, and Alt+0140 and Alt+0156 for Œ).

Archæology is now more usually written as archaeology. Even in American English it is common to see the word spelled archeology, completely omitting the a.

Why is this?

Would it be still right to use a ligature for, e.g., supernovæ instead of supernovae?

Having observed other languages such as French, Danish, Norwegian, etc. I can say that ligatures are still common elsewhere. In French, for example, æ’s are mainly replaced with accents, but œ’s are very common in words such as cœur, sœur, œuvre, etc.

Of course, personally and subjectively, I consider ligatures to be beautiful and elegant, which add yet another matt flavour to the English language.

  • 1
    Ligatures: A Guide to their Proper and Improper Use: scribendi.com/advice/…
    – user66974
    Oct 21, 2015 at 7:24
  • Well, it definitely seems wrong to me to use a ligature where two vowel letters represent distinct sounds, as in the Classical names Pasiphae and Danae. On the other hand, in these cases, it is possible to use a diæresis: Pasiphaë, Danaë. (Weird examples, but they're the first that popped into my mind.)
    – herisson
    Oct 21, 2015 at 7:28
  • How do I type them in on a standard keyboard? Oct 21, 2015 at 7:40
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    @BrianHooper On Windows, press Alt+0198 and Alt+0230 for Æ. Alt+0140 and Alt+0156 for Œ.
    – Veo
    Oct 21, 2015 at 7:43
  • 1
    At least in Britain we do still tend to preserve the two letters (whilst America has largely abolished even that practice). e.g. We have foetus and encyclopaedia so spelled - which retains something of the elegance of the ligatures. Personally I still observe them if I am writing by hand - which sadly is not often these days.
    – WS2
    Oct 21, 2015 at 8:45


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