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Can somebody please fix the pdf reader so that it can correctly render “ff” when I cut and paste? This comes up when I’m copying sections of articles on to the blog.

Thank you.

P.S. I googled “ff pdf” but no help there.

P.P.S. It’s a problem with “fi” also.

P.P.P.S. Yes, I know about ligatures. But, if you already knew about ligatures, and I already know about ligatures, then presumably the pdf people already know about ligatures too. So why can’t their clever program, which can already find individual f’s, also find the ff’s and separate them? I assume it’s not so simple but I don’t quite understand why not.


  1. Matt says:

    These are ligatures. Maybe that will help with your search.

  2. Vincent says:

    If it's because of the ligatures, the problem may be too typeface-dependent to be fixed any time soon.

  3. Peter says:

    Your PDF contains an ff or fi ligature, which is a single glyph containing both characters shoved together so they look better.

  4. Rob Hyndman says:

    I'm guessing the problem is occurring with LaTeX documents. LaTeX replaces ff and fi with alternative characters using ligatures and when you cut and paste from the pdf the characters are omitted because they are non-standard. I don't think it happens with Word documents, for example.

  5. Frank says:

    I always wondered about that.
    Adobe's documentation on the issue (which seems to be the fault of whoever authored the document + fonts + renderers + Adobe):… (this asaha site looks shady, but clicking Download leads to an archive of the documentation, which was apparently taken down from Adobe's site)

  6. John says:

    Hmmm. It doesn't happen with my LaTeX documents on Mac OS X 10.6.5. If I copy the ligatures in the pdf document to the clipboard and past into plain text, the ff, fi, and etc. ligatures all render correctly (i.e., ff, fi, and so on). What are you using to copy and paste into? Years ago, I used to get the missing characters effect you report, but I haven't seen it for some time on OS X. But then, all the pdf engines I am using are Apple's of MacTeX (aka 'nix-based), not ADOBE.

  7. okumura says:

    Try this:

    usepackage[T1]{fontenc} % This is important

    fine iffie


  8. xi'an says:

    Wow, and I thought I was the only one with this problem!!!

  9. malecki says:

    It doesn’t fix your problem, but your desired behavior is consistent with the Unicode ideal. I had not previously thought about it in terms of “characters not glyphs” — but for my part I am not willing to give your Renderer any more leeway in choosing glyphs to correspond to my characters. Maybe this is the way of the future, though, as type on the web becomes better (at least for Mac users).

  10. Feng says:

    Maybe you can provide a sample pdf file.

  11. Yu-Sung Su says:


    Call the package "times" in your TeX document will do the trick.


    fine iffie

  12. DKB @ NYU says:

    Another data point: standard LaTeX (none of the addins suggested above) used to create pdf using dvi2pdf, then cut and paste from the Foxit pdf reader — in Windows XP. It works. Don't know whether it's the reader or how the pdf was created.

  13. Sam R. says:

    Well speaking for myself, I'm rarely trying to copy and paste out of my own documents. So LaTeX code isn't going to help.

    I'd try out a different PDF reader, maybe starting with Foxit as recommended above. What you want is for the PDF reader to translate the ligatured "ff" or "fi" into "ff" or "fi" when you ask it to copy the text into the clipboard for you. It seems reasonable to me, and it's the functionality you expected… so maybe it seemed reasonable to someone programming at least one of the readers.

    Besides Foxit Reader, which is used in my department's graduate labs, other good alternatives I have heard of or used myself are PDF-XChange (demo) and Nitro PDF Reader.

    Alternatively, if you can find a PDF that isn't transcribing the ligatures for you and paste a link, you might be able to get your readers to do the various software testing for you. (Without having to install five different PDF packages.)