The Ampersand (&) – How and When to Use It

The ampersand used to be part of the alphabet and has been used since the Roman Empire. It is a symbol that replaces the word “and” and is often used as part of an official name or in various forms of informal writing. 

Despite its longevity in the written language, there is still quite a bit of confusion concerning its use. We explain the history of this symbol and how you can use it appropriately in your writing.

Ampersand [&] is a shortened version of the term “and per se and.” It replaces the word “and” to explain the relationship between two words. You should always use the word “and” whenever possible, but there are specific rules for correct ampersand use with official names, informal writing, and some word connections.  

The History of the Ampersand

Ngram

The ampersand is a symbol used as shorthand for the Latin word “et”, as in “&c”. The ampersand first appeared in the first century in Old Roman Cursive and later came to be used as a substitute for the English word “and.”

The Ampersand and The Alphabet

By the 1800s, the ampersand was considered the 27th letter of the alphabet. When students recited the alphabet, instead of finishing with “…x, y, z and–,” the children finished reciting with “x, y, z and per se and.” This way, the reciters denote that they are stating “and, by itself, and.” 

Naming the Ampersand

Ampersand English

An ampersand is a mondegreen and got its name based on a mishearing of the “and per se and” phrase at the end of the alphabet. It was not called an ampersand until the 1800s, when the symbol became a slurring of the words “and per se and” into “ampersand.” It was eventually removed from the English alphabet. 

Is It Unprofessional to Use an Ampersand?

Even though it is not acceptable to replace “and” with an ampersand in most scenarios, the glyph has some specific rules of use to take advantage of in writing for both professional and formal use.  

Rule #1

Use an ampersand to connect words in an official business or enterprise title. 

For Example:

  • Tiffany & Co
  • Smith, Jones & Matthews
  • Barker & Sons

Rule #2

Use an ampersand as part of an informal descriptive clause to help draw attention to wording pairs when several items are listed together. This also helps to avoid the overuse of the word “and.” 

For Example:

  • The choices for lunch included fresh fruit, milk, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, turkey & cheese crackers, and various dessert options. 

Rule #3

Use an ampersand for informal writing, quick notes, and shorthand to replace the word “and.” 

For Example:

  • Add dates, locations & last names to the timeline.
  • Tell John to pick up milk, bread & juice.

Rule #4

Use an ampersand for specific word abbreviation pairings.

For Example: 

  • B&B: Bed & Breakfast
  • R&B: Rhythm & Blues

Ampersands and Punctuation

Basic punctuation surrounding the use of an ampersand is simple to remember. Take note of these three basic rules of ampersand use. 

Rule #1

Company and enterprise names require space on either side of the ampersand. No space is needed in abbreviations. 

For Example:

  • Quentin & Associates
  • J&J: Johnson & Johnson

Rule #2

Do not use a serial common after the second to last word in a series of words when an ampersand follows it. Do use the comma is “and” is used. 

For Example:

  • Peanuts, popcorn & soda
  • Peanuts, popcorn, and soda

Rule #3

In screenwriting, an ampersand is used to show a connection between two writers who wrote a script together as a team. If the names are connected by an “and,” they worked separately on the same script. 

For Example:

  • John S. Baker & Maria Smith
  • Monica Fuller and Sam Wallace

Is it Unprofess

Examples of How to Use an Ampersand in a Sentence 

Kum & Go plans to build a five-story, $151 million office in downtown Des Moines. (The Des Moines Register)

Among the many obligations bankrupt Relativity Media has failed to meet is to the Motion Picture & Television Fund, the charity that provides health care, social services and a home for aging industry veterans in Woodland Hills, Calif. (Variety)

Miguel Gutierrez’s “Age & Beauty,” Parts 1 and 2, were reprised over the weekend in a co-presentation of New York Live Arts, where the works were performed, and Crossing the Line 2015. (The New York Times)

Once they drove to the great market (Burra Bazaar) and were fascinated by what they saw – “copper vessels, crockery, rice, sugar, gods, goddesses, knives, muslins, silks &c &c were all displayed together”. (The Calcutta Telegraph)

Among the exhibits may be mentioned wood carving, modelling (including working models of aeroplanes of different kinds, bridges, &c.), needle-work and woodwork in great variety, photography, painting and drawing. (The Chandigarh Tribune)

Let’s Review

The ampersand has been used for thousands of years and is a simple glyph to replace the word “and.” However, it does have a few specific rules you need to be aware of to use it correctly. Business names, abbreviations, and informal writing scenarios are where it is most acceptable.