What Are Asterisks ( * ) And How Do You Use Them?

The asterisk is the most amazing symbol ever created!*
If you use an asterisk, your writing will win tons of awards and make you world famous!*
There is nothing that the asterisk cannot do!*

OK, those last couple of sentences could use a bit of clarification: these are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent everyone who uses an asterisk.

For that type of clarification, we luckily have the asterisk. The asterisk is a symbol many people are likely familiar with even if they’ve never actually used one in their writing. The asterisk sometimes gets a bad rap—it’s got ties to dubious claims and naughty language—so let’s clean up this starry symbol’s reputation a bit by explaining how to properly use it.

What is an asterisk?

An asterisk is a star-shaped symbol (*) that has a few uses in writing. It is most commonly used to signal a footnote, but it is sometimes also used to clarify a statement or to censor inappropriate language.

✏️ Example usage of an asterisk

The following three examples show different instances when we might use an asterisk:

  • The East Virginia Swashbucklers and the Old Jersey Carpenters* are the only two teams to go undefeated.
    *Because of a labor strike, the Carpenters only played eight games.
  • Buy Big Bob’s Bird Baths! Birds love them!*
    *Big Bob’s Bird Baths are not actually endorsed by birds.
  • According to police, the suspect resisted arrest and repeatedly referred to his neighbor as “a piece of ****.”

When do you use an asterisk?

In formal and especially academic writing, the asterisk is most commonly used to introduce a footnote. Besides this usage, the asterisk has two other fairly common uses in other types of writing.


Typically, an asterisk is placed after a word or sentence that has a footnote attached. Footnotes can have many different uses, such as providing a citation or giving additional context. Depending on the formatting the writer uses, the footnote may appear at the bottom of the same page as the asterisk or will appear at the end of a chapter or in an index. If the footnote is on the same page, it will typically also begin with an asterisk as well.

Here is an example of how a writer might use an asterisk with a footnote:

  • Bugs Bunny is widely considered the greatest basketball player in the Space Jam league of basketball. The rascally rabbit has averaged 3,000 points* a season.
    *According to statistics provided by the Space Jam Basketball Association

When using an asterisk, it is typically considered proper to put the asterisk after every punctuation mark except dashes, in which case the asterisk would come first.

Learn more about using footnotes and other practices you can use to avoid plagiarism.


This usage of asterisks is particularly common in advertising and/or marketing. Typically, an asterisk is used to notify a reader of a clarification located in the “fine print” of an advertisement elsewhere in the ad. Often, these clarifications provide legal disclaimers about a statement said elsewhere in the ad.

For example, you might see an advertisement that uses an asterisk like this:

  • The contest is open to all customers!* Submit your entry today!
    *All contestants must be 18 years of age or older.

This usage of the asterisk has led to the symbol being commonly seen as an indicator that a piece of information should be taken with a grain of salt or is of questionable accuracy because there is additional context someone is leaving out or hiding in the fine print. So, if someone says something “comes with an asterisk attached,” they are typically referring to this usage.


Asterisks are sometimes used in writing to censor offensive or inappropriate language. This usage is especially common in newswriting and television closed captioning. Typically, asterisks are substituted in for letters of objectionable words. Depending on the organization, the word might be censored completely or may have only some of the letters omitted.

As an example, you might read a newspaper story that uses asterisks like this:

  • Champion Michael “the Mouth” Davis said that his opponent was a “lazy f***” who hadn’t trained properly for the championship bout.

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

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Looking for more? Try this article on how to use the ampersand!

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