A Compulsory Edit : I'm using this "s/he" thing quite a few times in the thesis. I've noticed that ⚧ (transgender unicode symbol) is even in the Unicode list, so I thought this might be a nice addition.

I'm not really losing sleep over it but it would have been nice if such a generic ligature was available maybe even for legal text. Probably in the end, I'll get tired and remove every single copy of it with a he and have a beer afterwards and write mean comments about vegetarian diet on Youtube.

Hence what I could have used in place for s/he is not important, take it as a pure typography challenge regardless of its use.

I find myself often grinding my teeth I need to keep this gender neutral thing in mind... even though I have no belief for its purpose. I can understand and respect the movement of increasing consciousness but over time, this showed only inconvenience rather than its original intended purpose. Maybe a genuine neutral pronoun is better but I don't know anything about linguistics so nevermind, I digress. ( for alternating use of he,she,his and her etc. automatically, look at Alan Munn's he-she package).

I'm thinking of a standalone ligature for handling this once and for all in my document. Initially I've tried to make the slash a little more pleasing but due to the geometry of s and h, forward slash is blocked by the extender of h and backwards is sticking out.

Question : Can you please propose alternatives that would serve as a general ligature that can be applied to as many mainstream fonts as possible? I can cook up my own version for a specific font if the idea is generally applicable to any font. It would be really great if it works with PDFLaTeX but it's not a deal-breaker.

Examples : Font-specific tricks such as hiding s in the serif of h, .... (a failed attempt)


enter image description here

Letter-cropping-based ones : Well, I can't believe how ugly it turned out to be but for the sake of argument, here it is (butchered via TikZ):

enter image description here

Slash-based overwrites (also butchered via TikZ)

enter image description here

st and ct type ligatures, from wikipedia (I'd better not touch that)

Wikipedia image

and many more. Excuse my current lack of imagination but, it wouldn't do much good anyway if compared to our font experts here.

  • 7
    One way to be gender neutral would be to simply use "it". :-) The PC police should love that. Feb 8, 2013 at 22:32
  • 7
    You're going to need a ligature for “his/her”, too, aren't you :)
    – cgnieder
    Feb 8, 2013 at 22:32
  • 19
    One can also use the undetermined "one" in one's text. However one might feel that one's prose has become rather pompous.
    – ArTourter
    Feb 8, 2013 at 22:41
  • 7
    I'd go with the word shklee as seen in Futurama; shklim or shkler can be used as a replacement of "him" or "her". :) Feb 8, 2013 at 22:46
  • 37
    they? (I don't think a reader would recognise any of the typeset variations without effort) Feb 8, 2013 at 23:42

8 Answers 8


In typophile.com forum, user dudefellow kindly posted the following nice idea which is kind of what I'm trying to get from my question. Hence, I'm posting it as a demonstration of what I'm after.

enter image description here

I would appreciate if we can limit the discussion to such propositions. It's more of a design question rather than the linguistic part as I've tried to clarify in the edit of my question.

More ideas about the ligature (thanks to dudefellow for the Armenian twist):

enter image description here enter image description here

  • 1
    Isn’t this actually something, that belongs as edit into your question?
    – Speravir
    Mar 9, 2013 at 21:51
  • 1
    @Speravir It's not my answer hence the answer. And I think I need to steer this to the point that I wish to benefit from rather than alternatives of s/he usage.
    – percusse
    Mar 9, 2013 at 22:48
  • "dude follow" me!!! :D Nov 16, 2021 at 4:52

Picking up a 500-year old idea...

enter image description here

  • Cool. But if you don't put the second in italics it becomes a bad she. That's why I made that integral-h in my post. The first one does read he or fhe anymore today, so i think we lost that front :)
    – percusse
    Mar 26, 2013 at 8:33
  • 3
    my idea is that the right one is the italic version of the left one. So there's no non-italic version of the right one other than the left one. My reasoning behind all this: most people have forgotten that there used to be a second s: the ſ, so today we're able to put it to new use. People won't assign it a status as independent character. They won't say, »ah, thats a she«. That ligature (which can be found in a lot of typefaces; this is Minion) is distinctive enough to be perceived as something with its own meaning, but, with context, will still be interpreted as s+h. Or so I hope.
    – Nils L
    Mar 26, 2013 at 8:44
  • 1
    The reason I think this might be possible, in the long run, is that my language has a very similar glyph, ß (other languages, even Engliſh, used to have it as well). Hardly any native speaker of German today is aware that this is in fact a ligature composed of ſ and s (or z; scholars disagree). So what I'm relying on is the lack of a long-term typographic cultural memory :) ...but we should take that to typophile, I guess.
    – Nils L
    Mar 26, 2013 at 8:50
  • I only read she with long s. So it’s bad. But the idea could be used for long s kerned over n, what would be similar to one of the ideas posted by percusse.
    – Speravir
    Mar 26, 2013 at 15:51

Why use ligatures? Ligatures are kind of anachronistic in this context. ;-) Use something modern: color!

  • 5
    Because it looks misprinted.
    – percusse
    Mar 8, 2013 at 7:49
  • 2
    I know that I'm on the offside with that, especially in English, and that I might offend someone with it: It looks misprinted to me, every time I see any of these things: she/he, s/he, (s)he, these ligatures, my own solution. Can one not accept a preface sentence like "the use of any grammatical constructs such as pronouns is independent of any real gender or sex concerned"?
    – Toscho
    Mar 8, 2013 at 9:56
  • Yes but as you can see from the comments, everybody is avoiding the actual ligature answer. I already have tens of different linguistic alternatives other than the ligature itself, including your proposition too. I also have another long post here: typophile.com/node/100528 I appreciate yours too but it's not what I'm looking for. I want to stay strictly with a ligature solution. If introducing any kind of math notation, regardless of how bizarre it can be, is allowed so should the text.
    – percusse
    Mar 8, 2013 at 10:53

1) $\mathrm \hbar$e


(I would put a pure text --no math-- version if I knew how to)

2) \~he


3) \'he


4) h\kern-1ex\c{}e


5) {h\kern-1.5ex\c{}}\kern+0.5exe


6) fie


7) \textit{fi}e


8) $\int$\kern-0.9ex\textit{\i}e


I like the versions using accents because they are robust with respect to font change. Also 6) and 7), which are actually real existing ligatures.

Some pure unicode options, for the fun of it, also much convenient to type:

%need xetex
ħe ⴐe ƕe ჩe ɦe ḩe 𐒓e ђe ɧe ҕe ꜧe Бe 𝖍e 𝛓he ԡe


EDIT: The results depends on the Font used. I didn't find a font that get all this right.

  • What font did you use in regard to the Unicode characters not appearing in the PDF? Libertine shows ħ, ƕ, ɦ and . Mar 26, 2013 at 7:27
  • @Qrrbrbirlbel, to be honest I think I don't know exactly how to choose the font in xelatex. I took some example from another answer and it didn't work. Anyway, I'll make this a wiki so anybody (?) can edit it.
    – alfC
    Mar 26, 2013 at 7:34
  • @Qrrbrbirlbel, ok, I finaly tried Libertine and found a couple of more characters.
    – alfC
    Apr 11, 2014 at 7:25
  • 1
    ɧ also has the bonus of representing a sound somewhat a mix between “sh” and “h”.
    – gnucchi
    Jan 2, 2018 at 11:07

If you need a ligature, this would be my best answer:

Then \raisebox{0.8ex}{\scriptsize s}\kern-0.2ex he would do something amazing.

she/he ligature

The only problem is the upper ligature of the s.

If it should look really good, you need a real ligature and consequently change the font for that. Try fontforge for that.

  • 3
    Well, that's why I asked the question. I need a real ligature. I know how to fiddle with fonts but the ligature is missing so it's not actually the answer to my question. That's why I've given the examples above with screenshots.
    – percusse
    Mar 9, 2013 at 10:26
  • If you want to create the ligature by \kern and \raisebox and that stuff, you'll have to do it for every font and possibly every size each.
    – Toscho
    Mar 9, 2013 at 15:02
  • I'm looking for the ligature propositions I can handle the remaining difficulties. I also know TikZ too if I have to use it for this. But the question is about what to use not how to implement it. That's why I've included the edit.
    – percusse
    Mar 9, 2013 at 15:06
  • 3
    The "s" better have the same size as the "h" does, or my feminist girlfriend will be furious if this becomes mainstream :-|
    – jub0bs
    Mar 26, 2013 at 10:18

I guess it’s impossible to create a ligature by only shifting and scaling the letters. A ligature is an own symbol/glyph which has to be designed individually as every other character too. There are two main reasons for that individual design process:

  1. The s and the h must join each other and not only overlap

  2. the stroke size of a smaller s must fit the regular strokes, which it doesn’t when scaling.

This image (taken from Tosho’s code) shows that 1. and 2. are not satisfied.


The only option would be to create the ligature with a font or vector editor, in the latter case the figure could be imported as an image or if the licence allows one can even add the new glyph to an existing font.


How about this:


enter image description here

Of course, it is just an approximation to illustrate an idea. This shape is almost symmetric, and as a bonus it even has a heart in the middle.


I have a colleague who I thought might now, so I asked (s)him. The answer was a simple "(s)he" (no ligature provided).

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