When Should the Ampersand Be Used

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In the 18th and 19th century, you would have used the ampersand when writing the alphabet. But that’s history. When should you use an ampersand in writing today?

Ampersand Usage–The Big Picture

In formal business writing, if the symbol is already in a name, then use it. So if you want to write about M&Ms, Ben & Jerry’s, or A & W’s Root Beer (hungry yet?), use it. Otherwise, avoid it in professional (and academic) writing.

Although the ampersand has a long and fascinating history, it is generally not considered acceptable usage.

The AP Stylebook, for example, says on its Facebook page that

“Use when it is part of a company’s name or in a composition title: Proctor & Gamble, House & Garden. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be used in place of “and,” except for some accepted abbreviations: B&B, R&B.”

But not so fast

The ampersand is making a comeback in informal writing. Type designers have fun designing variations on the traditional symbol. If your content is designed toward a younger audience, then consider using it.

This is an ampersand

Designers love the flexibility of the non-letter letter or the non-word word. The symbol opens up many possibilities. As designer Tobias Frere-Jones writes

“the ampersand is a beautiful and uncooperative creature, one we’re lucky to have inherited.”

If you are looking for a source of the symbol, check out the collection at Open Source Ampersands, a site dedicated to lovers of the symbol.

Writers Are Not the Only Ones Who Use the Ampersand

Ampersand is used in programming languages. This was derived from the logical notation of binary operators in formal logic and used by programmers working in C, C++, Pascal, and Fortran, among others.

HTML, XML, and other text markups also use an ampersand, as in &bsp; (non-breaking space).

Who Used the Ampersand First

We inherited the & from the Romans. An unknown writer combined the letters e and t to shorten the Latin word for and–et.

Two hundred years ago people considered the ampersand the 27th letter of the alphabet. Back then, when kids had to recite the alphabet, they would end it “X,Y,Z, and per se and.” People started to mumble those words together until “and per se and” eventually became ampersand.

If you’re interested in how and when to use [sic], check out the [sic] post. Curious who makes the rules we have to follow? Then check out Who Makes Grammar Rules.

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