How to Use Ampersands

Ampersands are often seen as difficult, but the rules of how to use them are fairly simple. This is a grammar guide to using an ampersand.

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The ampersand—&—is one piece of grammar that is rarely seen in fiction or non-fiction writing. While it is another way to write and, the two are not interchangeable. There are a few instances when you should use an ampersand but, outside of these uses, use and.

The first is company names. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, for example, uses the ampersand instead of the word. If you’re writing a name such as the above in which somebody else has used an ampersand, you should follow suit when referencing it.

Secondly, there are quite a few phrases that are commonplace to shorten. R&D or Health & Safety, for instance. If you’re writing in a relatively informal environment, shortening these with an ampersand would be accepted.

Thirdly, if you are writing a list you can use an ampersand if you need to use the word and in a list item.

My five favourite things in life are cake, ice cream, cake & ice cream, fish and Taylor Swift.

The ampersand tells the reader that the cake and ice cream belong together rather than finishing the list by using and. In this example, however, confusion may arise from the final two items, where the reader may think that fish and Taylor Swift make a single entry. To avoid this, using an Oxford comma would be more effective, in which case the ampersand would no longer be required. Just because you can use an ampersand in this context, doesn’t mean you always should, as there are alternatives (including semi-colon separation) more suited to making complicated lists easier for the reader.

Fourthly, and finally, ampersands are used in film credits for screenplays. If two or more writers work on a project collaboratively, they are joined with an ampersand. If multiple writers worked on the same project in succession rather than collaboratively, their names will be joined with an and.

In practice, you’re not going to be using an ampersand very often, but it does have its uses in other different writing disciplines. If you do use it regularly in place of and, consider that editors will not appreciate it whatsoever, readers often find it interrupts sentences, and pressing two keys instead of three on a keyboard does not save much time.

Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.

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