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& when is it OK to use an ampersand?

Posted by Wendy Wood on 25th May , 2021 in Grammar
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Ampersands are quite interesting characters, aren’t they? But do you know when you can use them and when you shouldn’t?

According to Merriam-Webster, the ampersand began as a character to join the letters e and t of the Latin word et, meaning “and”. I imagine it looking something like one of these:

Rather than what I think of as the backwards S we use today:

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of when we can and can’t use ampersands. Since an ampersand is an abbreviation, they are not recommended for any formal writing. But one thing about formal writing is there’s always an exception — or two.

& here are the buts

Company names that include everyone
Company names often include ampersands. Think of Tiffany & Co, Johnson & Johnson, Barnes & Noble, and my personal favourite, Ben & Jerry’s. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) says company names are best given in their full forms — and these full forms can sometimes include ampersands. CMOS suggests researching the corporate website and writing the company name the way the company wants it written.

Publisher names
CMOS says either and or & can be used in a publisher’s name, provided it’s treated consistently throughout your citations. So you’d use either Harper and Row or Harper & Row, but not both in the same document.

& abbreviations
If a widely used initialism (an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of a sequence of words) includes an ampersand, such as R&D, Texas A&M University, R&B, or B&B, I would suggest using them with caution. Remember my earlier caveat: ampersands are best avoided. Any initialism you use that includes an ampersand must be widely used and easily understood by your audience. Notice there are no spaces on either side of an ampersand used in initialisms.

& another but

In company names with words, like JPMorgan Chase & Co or Tiffany & Co, a space is placed on either side of the ampersand. But in companies that use initialisms, like AT&T, A&W, H&R Block or M&M’s, the ampersand is treated as part of the abbreviation and there are no spaces around it.

& one last word

Always be consistent with your use, or nonuse, of ampersands. If you’re ever in doubt, use the word “and” instead. It will never be wrong.

Wendy Wood
Proofreader

 

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