What Is an Ampersand Symbol?

Ampersand Symbol on Wooden Floor Against Wall
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An ampersand is a symbol (&) representing the word 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. 

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."

Well-Known Brand Examples That Use the 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 (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, "Et All O' Youse." The Word Detective, May 20, 2003)

"The More Ampersands, the Crummier the Movie"

"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, "When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It". Broadway Books, 2007)

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, "Treasury of Alphabets and Lettering: A Source Book of the Best Letter Forms". W.W. Norton & Co., 1995)

A Logograph

"The '&'-sign is, in the terminology used by [Geoffrey] Sampson [in "Writing Systems", 1985], one of the few logographic elements that have survived 'on the periphery of our own [phonographic] writing system.' Its shape suggests a knot that ties together the terms on its left and right; but it is apparently derived from a decorative combination of the letters e and t."
(Balz Engler, "Writing & Culture". Gunter Narr Verlag, 1992)

The Lighter Side of Ampersands: An 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, "Listverse.com's Epic Book of Mind-Boggling Lists". Ulysses Press, 2014)