The Ampersand is this little symbol ‘&‘ and all it means is…and. This little piece of shorthand dates from the 1st Century AD. Yes, it really is that old. The symbol itself started its life as just e and t written together. Et, in Latin, meant ‘and’. Those clever Romans had many symbols, known as ligatures, which were basically shorthand for common words, like Et. The ampersand back in the 1st Century was still easily recognizable as Et, but as handwriting became more cursive (joined-up) and people wrote faster and faster the Ampersand eventually became the familiar & sign we see today.

So, if it just means ‘and’ why do we call it ‘Ampersand‘? Why not just call it ‘and’ or ‘the sign for and’. This is another interesting story, and it won’t take up too many more lines before I get to how to use it. We’re all used to reciting our alphabet. But what not too many people are familiar with is that there used to be one more letter after z…this one &. Also, rather than the traditional song we sing today, any letter that could be used on its own – like I or A – was preceded with ‘per se’. Per se, means ‘by itself’ in Latin…sort of ruins the song’s rhythm, I can see why they dropped it! So, at the very end, when it was &’s turn you would say ‘and per se and’ – because that’s how you pronounce & – and. Overtime, English-speaking school-children started running their words together, as children are prone to do, and ended up saying ‘ampersand‘ instead. By the late 19th Century, every time someone saw a ‘&’ they automatically saw the ‘ampersand‘.


There’s you’re basic history, now…how do you go about using one? Once again time is changing how we use language and symbols, making this quite a valid question. When using SMS, Facebook and Twitter, people often use & as literal shorthand. Making things look quite messy and often giving the impression that using and ampersand is just sloppy writing. Things like ‘& I saw Smith & Michael & John all at the Mall last week’ demonstrate this. Its important to realize that, while it does mean ‘and’ an ampersand can’t just be used to replace the word. It’s got added meaning and significance.

Using the ampersand to replace ‘and’ does look messy, and many have developed the idea that the ampersand is informal. Actually, the reverse is true – it’s most often used in formal situations. The Ampersand can be used to denote either a formal, or a very close relationship. The most common use of the Ampersand in everyday use (off Twitter!) is in Business Speak. Law firms, Companies, Corporations, often have Ampersand’s in their names. Say, ‘Smith & Jones’ or ‘Smith & Sons’ so and so forth. It important that the ampersand is part of the name, and can’t just be replaced with ‘and’.

The second place you’ll spot the Ampersand is in collaborations; two people working together to write a book, or a script. The Ampersand denotes that the relationship is a collaborative one. For example, you might see on a book cover or in a film credit:

“Written by: John Smith & Michael Jones” – again, the ampersand means something more than just ‘and’ it makes the relationship a collaboration, rather than just two people working together on the same project.

In academia, the MLA and APA style-guides require you to use the Ampersand in your citations. If two people wrote a paper or a book together, and you’re quoting that same paper or book, then your in-text citation is going to look something like this:

(Smith & Smith; 1988 p.46)

The Ampersand, beloved by typographers, is not just simple shorthand. Used to denote collaboration, or a business partnership, it means more than just a literal ‘and’. However, if you’ve used it wrong, say you thought it was okay to write & instead of ‘and’, don’t panic. The editors at First Editing are ready and waiting to correct them for you.