Grammar How to Use an Ampersand |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

How to Use an Ampersand

The ampersand (the “&” symbol) is an unusual feature of the English language. It supposedly has survived in a limited form since the days of the Roman Empire. Despite the mark’s longevity, people may still sometimes have questions about when and how to use it.

In formal writing, use of the ampersand to replace the word “and” is typically not encouraged. However, as we’ll see in a moment, the mark still has a function within specific formal references, as well as a couple of everyday purposes within informal writing. In today’s post we’ll consider how to put the ampersand to work those contexts.

How to Use an Ampersand: Three Applications

The word ampersand is a shortened version of “and per se and,” and it denotes things that go together.

Generally speaking, there are three ways in which you might use an ampersand:

As part of an official name (formal and informal). Many businesses and enterprises incorporate the ampersand into their official names. One well-known example is the famous jeweler Tiffany & Co. You may see it on storefront signs for business names such as Miller & Associates or Foxx & Sons as well.

In these instances the ampersand shows that the parties go together while also shortening the overall name of the partnership or enterprise.

As part of a descriptive clause (informal). When several items are listed together, an ampersand may be used to tie together words or descriptions that would otherwise be less clear. For example, you might write: My favorite breakfasts are donuts, pancakes, biscuits & gravy, and bacon & eggs.

The purpose of the ampersand here is to avoid having to write “and” repeatedly in a way that might make the sentence difficult to follow.

As shorthand for “and” (informal). Perhaps the most frequent use of an ampersand is as a substitute for the word “and.” This can be helpful when you are writing quickly or you need to make space. This use of the ampersand is an informal one that shouldn’t be overdone, but occasionally you might use the symbol to save character space on paper; simply use proper judgment concerning your document.

For further insight into the use of the ampersand in formal writing, see our post & What About the Ampersand?

Grammar Is Fun When You Know How to Use It

Grammar can be challenging sometimes, but once you master the fundamentals, a whole new world of precise and eloquent communication can open up to you.

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8 responses to “How to Use an Ampersand”

  1. Anita says:

    I want to label food that I’m serving. I have room on the tags to do it either way. Should I use: 1. Fish and Grits, 2. Fish & Grits, or 3. Fish&Grits (without spaces)?

    Thanks in advance for your assistance!

  2. Shafiq says:

    I want a label. Should I write “Fruity & Cocoa & Vanilla cake” or “Fruity, Cocoa & vanilla cake”? Please advise.

    • says:

      Your treatment would depend on what should be clearly described. For example, is it:

      Fruity, cocoa & vanilla cake? (the cake is all three flavors)
      Fruity-cocoa & vanilla cake? (the cake is vanilla and fruity cocoa)
      Fruity cocoa-vanilla cake? (cocoa-vanilla cake that is fruity)
      Fruity cocoa & vanilla cake? (cocoa and vanilla cake that is fruity)

  3. Kai Jones-Biscette says:

    I have a sub-title on a book that reads…
    200+ Games, Activities & Prompts for…
    Should it read…
    200+ Games, Activities, & Prompts for…
    200+ Games, Activities, and Prompts for…

    Thanks in advance for your clarification.

    • says:

      Either of the following is acceptable:
      200+ Games, Activities, and Prompts for …
      200+ Games, Activities & Prompts for …

  4. Adam says:

    Is it okay to start a sentence (informal) with an ampersand?

    • says:

      We do not recommend starting a sentence with a symbol or numeral; however, informal writing does not always follow grammatical rules.

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