When two let­ters are joined as a lig­a­ture, I un­der­stand they are con­sid­ered to be one in­di­vid­u­al glyph. I al­so un­der­stand that let­ters on their own like D or S are con­sid­ered nouns or words.

When con­nect­ing two let­ters or graphemes with a lig­a­ture as one glyph, is the glyph con­sid­ered one word as D and S are, or two?

When are lig­a­tured let­ters con­sid­ered their own char­ac­ters, and when is a lig­a­tured glyph con­sid­ered two let­ters even though it is called one “glyph”?

When they are joined, are these lig­a­ture glyphs named as D and S are, so as “dee” and “ess”?

I have found that all the letters in the alphabet are nouns in the dictionary, yet in the form of ligatures I have not found if these ligatures are considered one word or two words of each letter of the ligature as the ligature is called one glyph,

enter image description hereenter image description here

  • 3
    You’re mix­ing to­geth­er a whole bunch of terms as though they were of the same cat­e­go­ry that in fact are not: let­ters, char­ac­ters, graph­emes, lig­a­tures, glyphs (which please note were his­tor­i­cal­ly called sorts in met­al type cas­es). This makes it im­pos­si­ble to an­swer your sev­er­al ques­tions as writ­ten. I don’t know what you re­al­ly mean when you use those terms — at all. And be­cause I sus­pect you may have more ex­pe­ri­ence in pro­gram­ming than in ty­pog­ra­phy or in ac­tual type­set­ting, I’m not com­plete­ly sure that you are ei­ther. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 3:55
  • When two letters or glyphs are joined into one glyph as a ligature, is this glyph considered two letters or one, since letters on their own are considered words as D and S, when two letters are joined as one glyph, does this glyph have a name and is it considered a word? Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 21:40
  • 1
    Every question should describe the asker's prior efforts to find an answer, and explain why the results were not adequate to answer the question. Some research is required on every question. This is called our research requirement. Research can take many forms: checking references such as an online English dictionary, thesaurus, or grammar, searching this site for similar questions, searching the web, or putting substantial thought into the question on your own. Please edit your question and detail your research results.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 23:00
  • 1
    Re­lat­ed: 1, 2, 3, 𝒆𝒕 𝒉𝒐𝒄 𝒈𝒆­𝒏𝒖𝒔 𝒐𝒎­𝒏𝒆.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 2:22
  • 2
    I have reöpened this question having learnt that one or another learnèd member of our community credits that they may have garnered a glimmer as to where the asker’s central confusion originates, and so has volunteered the provision of an illuminating answer thereanent.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 0:47

1 Answer 1


Let’s first clarify some terminology:

  • A letter is a basic (often atomic) element of a writing system. Which letter you use in a word depends on the orthography you use, but it does not depend on the typeface, font, handwriting style or similar. For example in standard English orthography, the word fine always consists of the letters f, i, n, and e – irrespective of whether you use an  ligature or not.

  • A character is also a basic element of a writing system, but the term is wider than letter as it also captures numbers, punctuation, etc. Unicode (and other text encoding systems) use characters as basic units.

  • A glyph is the basic (usually atomic) unit of a font. When a text is rendered in a font, it will be composed of these glyphs. Usually, glyphs are shapes that cannot be divided into simpler shapes. In movable type, a glyph would correspond to a single movable element, also called sort. For example, here are a few glyphs of the font in which this text is rendered: a, A, :, $, 7, ß. A font may contain several glyphs for one letter, for example some fonts feature, both, a monocular and binocular g, and the designer can decide which one to use.

  • A ligature is a glyph that spans two or more letters. This is usually used to connect the letters in some way to make them more pleasing to read. For example, the  ligature contained in many typefaces is a glyph: you cannot split it since the f and i are connected. It is debatable whether the term ligature can be applied to handwriting at all. (Note that while Unicode contains some ligature codepoints due to historic reasons, ligatures are usually not considered characters.)

  • A digraph is a pair of letters that have a special meaning in some orthography. For example, sh is a digraph in the standard English orthography, representing a different sound than just the combination of an s and an h sound (except for words like mishap).

Now to your questions:

I also understand that letters on their own like D or S are considered nouns or words.

This is not exactly correct. There are words we use to refer to letters when talking about them. For example the word zet (usually spelt Z) refers to the letter Z, but they are different things; you cannot speak a letter as such. The difference between the two is the same as between water (the chemical substance) and the word water.

When connecting two letters or graphemes with a ligature as one glyph, is the glyph considered one word as D and S are, or two?


When they are joined, are these ligature glyphs named as D and S are, so as “dee” and “ess”?

For everything that humans want to talk about, terms exists. Sometimes these are words; sometimes these are more complicated. For example, in the above I used the term fi ligature to refer to something and I suppose you understood it. I leave it up to you whether you consider this a word or two words, as it doesn’t really matter. You usually will not find these terms in the dictionary, as they are not relevant enough and people have little doubt about their meaning, spelling, etc.

When are ligatured letters considered their own characters, and when is a ligatured glyph considered two letters even though it is called one “glyph”?

As mentioned above, using a ligature does not change the letters per se.

However, it sometimes happens that an orthography features a digraph, and then a ligature for this digraph becomes so established that it turns into a letter. For example, roughly speaking, the letter w originated from a uu digraph (hence its English name) and its graphical shape originates from the corresponding ligature. In another example, the German letter ß originates from an ſz digraph and ligature; it is the final stages of a transition that took centuries.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.