Frequently Asked Question List for TeX


Big letters at the start of a paragraph

A common style of typesetting, now seldom seen except in newspapers, is to start a paragraph (in books, usually the first of a chapter) with its first letter set large enough to span several lines.

This style is known as “dropped capitals”, or (in French) «lettrines», and TeX’s primitive facilities for hanging indentation make its (simple) implementation pretty straightforward.

The dropping package does the job simply, but has a curious attitude to the calculation of the size of the font to be used for the big letters. Examples appear in the package documentation, so before you process the dtx, the package itself must already be installed. Unfortunately, dropping has an intimate relation to the set of device drivers available in an early version of the LaTeX graphics package, and it cannot be trusted to work with modern offerings such as pdfTeX or DVIpdfm, let alone such modernisms as XeTeX. As a result, the package is widely deprecated, nowadays.

The more recent lettrine package is generally more reliable. It has a well-constructed array of options, and an impressive set of examples adds to the package’s document.

FAQ ID: Q-dropping