It’s time to set the record straight about ampersands.
Contrary to popular belief, an ampersand is NOT interchangeable with the word “and.” Believe it or not, it has its own functions, meanings and uses.
Unfortunately, I see it misused every day in my work as an editor.
The tendency to overuse the ampersand has worsened as less formal digital communication (texting, email, Tweeting), has exploded, calling for character shortcuts.
Using this symbol as convenient shorthand when writing, however, is like nails on a chalkboard—and it makes the writer appear careless.
I’d wager a guess that if you asked 10 people if they know the rules for using an ampersand, you’d be hard-pressed to find one person who knows said rules exist, much less what they are. Most people don’t think it’s important enough to merit attention.
Here’s the thing. It’s little details, like using an ampersand incorrectly, that can make your writing look amateurish.
The rules are simple.
Don’t use an ampersand in regular text, headings or titles in place of and, except as noted below.
Limit using ampersands in these situations:
- Proper nouns names like “Crown & Co.” (Note: spaces are used here).
- When logos, titles or names contain an ampersand as part of a design.
- In titles of creative works, like books, songs and albums.
- In tables or parentheses when there is limited space.
- In common shorthand expressions like “R&D,” “rock & roll,” or “country & western.”
- Ampersands can be used to indicate that the “and” in a listed item is part of the item’s name and not a separator, such as Rhythm & Blues.
- In names that are abbreviations, like “AT&T” or “A&W” (Note: no spaces are used.)
- In citations when the source has multiple authors, use the symbol to connect the last two (Smith, Greene & Jones, 2008).
- When identifying more than one addressee, such as: Mr. & Mrs. Garone.
- The phrase et cetera (“and so forth”), commonly written as , is also properly abbreviated &c., representing the combination et + c (etera).
There you have it. Consider yourself in the know.
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