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Ruby

Intended audience: anyone who has heard of ruby text and would like to know a little more about it.

Updated 2006-10-16 18:50

Question

What is 'ruby'?

Answer

The term ruby is used to refer to a particular type of annotation. Typically ruby is used in East Asian scripts to provide phonetic transcriptions of obscure characters, or characters that the reader is not expected to be familiar with. For example it is widely used in education materials and children’s texts. It is also occasionally used to convey information about meaning.

In Japanese, where ruby is called furigana, phonetic transcriptions typically appear in hiragana above horizontal text and to the right of vertical text.

Examples of horizontal and vertical text are shown below and to the right. Note: The ruby in the examples on this page is colored red only to direct your attention to it - it would normally be the same color as the base text.

Example of ruby in a horizontal Japanese sentence.
Example of ruby in a vertical Japanese sentence.

Semantic (or meaning related) information is typically provided below the horizontal text or to the left of vertical text.

Although ruby in Japanese is typically in hiragana, it is also possible to occasionally find annotations in kanji, katakana and Latin text.

In Taiwan, zhuyin (bopomofo) characters are used to indicate the pronunciation of Traditional Chinese. Rather than appearing above the main text, the annotation is included vertically to the right of each character, whether the main text is vertical or horizontal.

For example:

A picture of bopomofo based ruby with Traditional Chinese.

Ruby may also be used for non-Asian annotations and to support inter-linear text.

By the way

The term derives from a named font size (5pt) used by printers.

For ruby support in markup use Ruby Annotation, which became a W3C Recommendation and part of XHTML 1.1 in May 2001. For ruby styling, there is the CSS3 Ruby Module (currently at Candidate Recommendation stage).

For implementation about ruby support in browsers see the section Implementing Ruby in the tutorial Ruby Markup and Styling.

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By: Richard Ishida, W3C.

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Content first published 2003-10-01. Last substantive update 2006-10-16 18:50 GMT. This version 2011-02-18 20:01 GMT

For the history of document changes, search for qa-ruby in the i18n blog.