All about ampersands

Summary

This article explains when (and when not) to use ampersands (&).

The ampersand (&) is an often over-used abbreviation for the word and. Its use should be limited to a few situations.

We use an ampersand:

  • in certain company names; e.g. Smith & Jones Consulting;
  • if space is very limited; e.g. in a table with a lot of text;
  • when artistic considerations dictate; e.g. a logo; and
  • in some academic references; e.g. (Grant & Smith, 1998).

Do not use an ampersand in general writing simply to abbreviate the word and. For example, we write:

We need to reorder toner cartridges and paper.

not:

We need to reorder toner cartridges & paper.

The strange shape of the ampersand

It is interesting to observe that the shape of the ampersand character varies from font to font. In some fonts, it looks like this:

An old-fashioned ampersand

With a bit of imagination, you can see the letters e and t. This is because the ampersand character is a stylised form of the Latin word et, which means and. Clever, yes?

If you'd like to be able to use this old-style ampersand in your writing, set a regular ampersand in italics. In a few fonts (e.g. Garamond) this produces an old-style ampersand like that shown above.