To Ampersand or Not to Ampersand?

I am not fond of the ampersand (&). It’s a shortcut piece of punctuation that substitutes for “and.” I’m sure it’s useful and makes sense on some level; the problem for me is that it is often overused when it should not be. Today I’ll try to slog my way through explaining when it’s acceptable or not acceptable to use the ampersand…understanding that my guidelines are not followed out in the wilderness of actual English use.

The Best Places for Ampersands 

Generally, substituting & for and works best in titles, proper nouns, common combined nouns, or acronyms. For example:

  • Parts & Accessories
  • Thomas Cook & Co.
  • DDT&E (Design, Development, Test, and Evaluation)
  • R&R (rest and relaxation)
  • B&B (bed and breakfast)

The “why” behind this is relatively simple: you’re trying to keep things short, simple, and easy to read or recognize. For more details, you might also wish to reference the Business Writer’s Blog, which has a straightforward list of the “rules” on ampersands as generally understood.

The Worst Places for Ampersands

Please, please, please don’t substitute & for and in regular sentences! So why isn’t an ampersand simple and easy to read in a sentence? My personal opinion–and I could be mistaken on this point–is that it just looks lazy. And, quite frankly, it’s distracting, rather like using numerals instead of words for some numbers.

Another Point on Ampersand Use

In abbreviations or acronyms, you don’t need spaces on either side of the &. In more formal names, it should be treated as a word and have a space on either side. I don’t make the rules, I’m just here to spell them out for you.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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