On your own computer you might use particular fonts to make a sentence appear like a Newspaper Headline, or make a word appear in calligraphic style. However, when someone else views the document, if they don't have that particular font installed on their system they will not be able to see it the way it appeared to you. The content of the text will not be lost, but it will be rendered in a different style.
If you specify a particular font on a web page or in a PG e-text, any reader who doesn't have that font installed will probably see the text in their default font instead, which could look quite different from what you intended.
To avoid the above problem, there are general font families that group together similar fonts. The main font families are:
- has little 'ornaments' ("serifs") on the ends of the letters. (list of examples)
- has no serifs. (list of examples)
- each character is just as wide as another. "W" and "i" are the same width. (list of examples)
- designed to look like handwriting. (list of examples)
- decorative style. (list of examples)
The first three are quite common, while the last two families aren't used as often. Their appearance can vary significantly depending on the computer and the web browser. Follow the links above to see some examples of each family.
If a web page specifies that some text should appear in a serif font, then you will see it in a serif font, but the particular font you see may vary depending on your browser settings and what fonts are installed on your computer.
You can select a particular font for (at least some of) these font families in your web browser settings. For instance, if you set your default monospaced font to be DP Sans Mono, then any monospaced text in a web page will appear in that font.