An overline, overscore, or overbar, is a typographical feature of a horizontal line drawn immediately above the text. In old mathematical notation, an overline was called a vinculum, a notation for grouping symbols which is expressed in modern notation by parentheses, though it persists for symbols under a radical sign. The original use in Ancient Greek was to indicate compositions of Greek letters as Greek numerals. In Latin, it indicates Roman numerals multiplied by a thousand and it forms medieval abbreviations (sigla). Marking one or more words with a continuous line above the characters is sometimes called overstriking, though overstriking generally refers to printing one character on top of an already-printed character.
An overline, that is, a single line above a chunk of text, should not be confused with the macron, a diacritical mark placed above (or sometimes below) individual letters. The macron is narrower than the character box.
An overbar over a letter is a traditional way of specifying certain Latin abbreviations. For example, s̅ (s overbar) stands for Latin sine (meaning without), c̅ (c overbar) is an abbreviation for Latin cum (meaning with), ā (a overbar) stands for Latin ante (meaning before), and p̄ (p overbar) stands for Latin post (meaning after).
In the Middle Ages, from the original Indian decimal writing, before printing, an overline over the units digit was used to separate the integral part of a number from its fractional part, as in 9995 (meaning 99.95 in decimal point format). A similar notation remains in common use as an underbar to superscript digits, especially for monetary values without a decimal separator, as in 9995.
When it is not possible to format the number so that the overline is over the digit(s) that repeat, one overline character is placed to the left of the digit(s) that repeat:
Historically, the vinculum was used to group together symbols so that they could be treated as a unit. Today, parentheses are more commonly used for this purpose.
in which the times (cross) means multiplication, the dot means logical AND, and the plus sign means logical OR.
Both illustrate De Morgan's laws and its mnemonic, "break the line, change the sign".
In common logarithms, a bar over the characteristic indicates that it is negative—whilst the mantissa remains positive. This notation avoids the need for separate tables to convert positive and negative logarithms back to their original numbers.
In computational neuroscience, an overline is used to indicate the 'maximal' conductances in Hodgkin-Huxley models. This goes back to at least the landmark paper published by Nobel prize winners Alan Lloyd Hodgkin and Andrew Fielding Huxley around 1952.
Overlines are used in subatomic particle physics to denote antiparticles for some particles (with the alternate being distinguishing based on electric charge). For example, the proton is denoted as
, and its corresponding antiparticle is denoted as
An overline-like symbol is traditionally used in Syriac text to mark abbreviations and numbers. It has dots at each end and the center. In German it is occasionally used to indicate a pair of letters which cannot both be fitted into the available space.
X-bar theory makes use of overbar notation to indicate differing levels of syntactic structure. Certain structures are represented by adding an overbar to the unit, as in X. Due to difficulty in typesetting the overbar, the prime symbol is often used instead, as in X′. Contemporary typesetting software, such as LaTeX, has made typesetting overbars considerably simpler; both prime and overbar markers are accepted usages. Some variants of X-bar notation use a double-bar (or double-prime) to represent phrasal-level units.
X-bar theory derives its name from the overbar. One of the core proposals of the theory was the creation of an intermediate syntactic node between phrasal (XP) and unit (X) levels; rather than introduce a different label, the intermediate unit was marked with a bar.
As mentioned above, Unicode includes two graphic characters, U+00AF ¯ MACRON and U+203E ‾ OVERLINE. They are compatibility equivalent to the U+0020 SPACE with non-spacing diacritics U+0304 ◌̄ COMBINING MACRON and U+0305 ◌̅ COMBINING OVERLINE respectively; the latter allows an overline to be placed over any character. There is also U+033F ◌̿ COMBINING DOUBLE OVERLINE. As with any combining character, it appears in the same character box as the character that logically precedes it: for example, x̅, compared to x‾. A series of overlined characters, for example 1̅2̅3̅, may result either in a broken or an unbroken line, depending on the font.
Unicode maps the overline-like character from ISO/IEC 8859-1 and code page 850 to the
U+00AF ¯ MACRON symbol mentioned above. In a reversal of its official name (and compatibility decomposition), it is much wider than an actual macron diacritic over most letters, and actually wider than
U+203E ‾ OVERLINE in most fonts. In Microsoft Windows, U+00AF can be entered with the keystrokes Alt+0175 (where numbers are entered from the numeric keypad). In GTK, the symbol can be added using the keystrokes Ctrl+⇧ Shift+U to activate Unicode input, then type "00AF" as the code for the character. On a Mac, with the
ABC Extended keyboard, use ⌥ Option+a.
The Unicode character U+0B55 ୕ ORIYA SIGN OVERLINE is used as a length mark in Odia script.
LibreOffice has direct support for several styles of overline in its "Format / Character / Font Effects" dialog.