What Is an Ampersand Symbol?

Are 'And' and '&' Interchangeable?

Ampersand Symbol on Wooden Floor Against Wall
mrgao / Getty Images

An ampersand is a symbol (&) representing the word and. The ampersand was included in the Old English alphabet, and the term is an alteration of and per se and. The symbol is a combination (or ligature) of the letters in et, Latin for "and." In formal writing, the ampersand is primarily used in the names of companies, such as "Johnson & Johnson." Ampersands sometimes also appear in formulas, computer code, and abridged or tabular matter. 

Well-Known Brands and Titles That Use an Ampersand

  • Abercrombie & Fitch
  • A.G. Edwards & Sons
  • "Angels & Demons" (novel and film)
  • AT&T
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Bausch & Lomb
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Black & Decker
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America
  • Burt & Associates
  • The College of William & Mary
  • Dun & Bradstreet
  • EconOffice Products & Supplies
  • Ernst & Young
  • Gould & Lamb
  • Hudson & Keyse
  • "Imagine Me & You" (film)
  • John Wiley & Sons
  • Litle & Co.
  • "Marley & Me" (novel and film)
  • Merck & Co.
  • Mothers & Others for Clean Air
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Saatchi & Saatchi
  • Simon & Schuster
  • Standard & Poor's
  • Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide
  • "Turner & Hooch" (film)

Reciting the Alphabet

"The name 'ampersand'...comes from the practice once common in schools of reciting all 26 letters of the alphabet plus the '&' sign, pronounced 'and,' which was considered part of the alphabet, at least for learning purposes.
"Any letter that could also be used as a word in itself ('A,' 'I,' '&' and, at one point, 'O') was preceded in the recitation by the Latin phrase 'per se' ('by itself') to draw the students' attention to that fact. Thus the end of this daily ritual would go: 'X, Y, Z and per se and.' This last phrase was routinely slurred to 'ampersand' by children rightly bored to tears, and the term crept into common English usage by around 1837."—Evan Morris

Plus Signs and Ampersands

"The plus sign [+] is used by sign painters and graphic artists who probably do not know how to handle the ampersand. They use an improper simplification. Trademarks, too, should not use the plus sign instead of the ampersand. People who do not wish to paint or draw an ampersand should not attempt lettering."—Jan Tschichold

The Ampersand Urban Legend

"Because people like to make up urban legends based on everything including stodgy old typographical marks, there's a vicious rumor floating around that French physicist and mathematician André-Marie Ampère used the mark so much that it eventually got called 'Ampere's and.' Don't believe it for a second. In the end, we're left with a pretty little symbol that has more than a few variants."—Jamie Frater

The Lighter Side of Ampersands...

"The symbol is a favorite of law and architecture firms, and is invaluable in parsing screenplay credits...A good rule of thumb is that the more ampersands in the credits, the crummier the movie."—Ben Yagoda

Sources

  • Morris, Evan. "Et All O' Youse." The Word Detective. May 20, 2003
  • Tschichold, Jan. "Treasury of Alphabets and Lettering: A Source Book of the Best Letter Forms". W.W. Norton & Co. 1995
  • Frater, Jamie. "Listverse.com's Epic Book of Mind-Boggling Lists." Ulysses Press. 2014
  • Yagoda, Ben. "When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It." Broadway Books. 2007