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Ampersands (&)

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By Mary Morel

Ampersands in business writing

Reader’s question: When do you use an ampersand (&) instead of ‘and’?

Answer: You can use ampersands in titles, signage and website buttons where space is limited or the ampersand is part of an organisation’s branding.

Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC)

Use and, not ampersands in business writing, even for emails. It is more professional.

The manager and the director met to discuss the new policy.

Ampersands in menus

Reader’s question: What is your view on the use of & or and in menus? I have previously used & to list ingredients that are combined, such as garlic & ginger and and for items that are not blended.

Answer: I think this is a style issue, but my preference would be to have consistency rather than a mixture of & (an ampersand) and and. I think using both could be distracting because I am not sure that readers would be aware that you are making a distinction.

In terms of which usage is better, that is your choice. Generally, in written prose and is preferable, but I think a menu is different because space is limited.

What style do other menus use? I looked at a few and found:

• Logan Brown, Wellington, NZ, uses &
• Sepia, Sydney, uses and
• Est., Sydney, uses and

Check out restaurants you like and see if they use & or and.

Origin of the ampersand

According to dictionary.com. the ampersand was once the 27th letter of the alphabet. In the first century, when Roman scribes wrote ‘et’, which means ‘and’, they often joined the letters, and so the ampersand was born.

The name came latter (early 18th century) from students reciting the alphabet. Instead of saying ‘x, y, z and’, they said ‘x, y, z and per se’ (per se means ‘by itself’).

Try saying ‘x, y, z and per se’ and you see how ‘and per se’ sounds like ‘ampersand’.

When a word or phrase is formed from mishearing something, it is known as a mondegreen (‘the girl with colitis goes by’ for ‘the girl with kaleidoscope eyes’).

Learn more

Learn more about punctuation with my online course, An A to Z of Punctuation (A$39).