What Are Ampersands ( & ) And How Do You Use Them?

The ampersand is a symbol that is really not complicated at all. It has one, and only one, job that it likes to do: swap in for the word and. That’s it. However, things get just a little bit tricky if you want to use the ampersand properly in formal writing.

What is an ampersand?

An ampersand (&) is a typographical symbol that is rarely used in formal writing. It is read aloud as the word and and is used as a substitute for that word in informal writing and in the names of products or businesses.

✏️ Examples of an ampersand in a sentence

The following sentences show how a writer would typically use an ampersand. Take note that not all of these sentences would be considered proper usage in formal writing:

  • Comcast and AT&T are two major ISPs in the United States.
  • She is a big fan of hip hop and R&B.
  • We made chicken fingers, macaroni & cheese, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.
  • I went to the mall with Sarah & my other friends.

When do you use an ampersand?

In general, use of the ampersand is highly discouraged in formal writing except for a few rare instances. You are much more likely to see an ampersand used in informal writing or texting.

Company names

Some companies use an ampersand in the name of their business or in the name of one of their products. In general, it is considered okay to use an ampersand when stating the names of these businesses/products even in formal writing. Here are a few examples of well-known names that use ampersands:

  • Ben & Jerry’s, Procter & Gamble, Barnes & Noble, H&R Block, A&W Root Beer, M&M’s, Abercrombie & Fitch, Fast & Furious, Mumford & Sons, Simon & Garfunkel

To clarify a series in informal writing

If a series includes items that also use the word and, a writer may decide to use ampersands to avoid repeatedly and confusingly using the word and. This usage is typically only seen in informal writing.

  • Original: For breakfast, they offer bacon and eggs, cereal, toast and jam, pancakes, waffles, and ham and cheese omelettes.
  • Ampersands: For breakfast, they offer bacon & eggs, cereal, toast & jam, pancakes, waffles, and ham & cheese omelettes.

Replacing the word and in informal writing

In informal writing, the ampersand is often used as a substitute for the word and. You are more likely to see this done when a person wants to write short messages or limit their character count, such as in texting or messages on social media. For example, you might see a message like this written on a social media post:

  • Me & BFF went 2 beach 2day. Got stung by a jellyfish  LOL #summer

How to use an ampersand

The ampersand is very easy to use; it simply substitutes for the word and. Like using the word and, you would typically use spacing with an ampersand as if it was a word and not a symbol. The exception to this general rule is if a company name doesn’t use spaces with an ampersand. In that case, the company’s preference takes precedence.  For example,

  • Usual spacing: Steve listened to rock & roll albums all day.
  • Company name with no spacing: The documentary was televised on A&E.

Take this quiz to see how much you know about ampersands and other typographical symbols.

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Learn about the 3 types of dashes next.

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