Q&A: When to use ampersands

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Each week, we chat about the quirks & anomalies of the English language. & this week, we explore why we should have used “and’” twice already in this intro…

Q: Hi AWC. I have a question about this Q&A.
A: That’s very “meta” of you. What would you like to know?

Q: Well it’s about the “&”…
A: We do love a good ampersand.

Q: Ah yes, “Ampersand” – the word that sounds like something you'd buy from IKEA
A: That's true.

Q: So here’s my question: are “&” and “and” always interchangeable?
A: No.

Q: But they both mean “and”??!
A: Yes.

Q: Are you messing with me?
A: Not at all. “&” is a short form of “and” that is only meant for certain places. Unfortunately, thanks to recent things like Twitter and texting, the shortened form has been performing roles well outside its original job description.

Q: I know how it feels. I used to be a barista, but they’d also get me to plead court cases on Thursday afternoons when the cafe was a bit slower, because barista and barrister sounded similar.
A: We’re going to ignore that.

Q: Wise choice.
A: So as we were saying, you can’t simply use the abbreviation “&” for “and”. It’s all about STYLE.

Q: Something court dress doesn’t have…
A: There are actually very few places you would ever opt for “&” in a standard sentence.

Q: So, “I went to the cafe & then I went to the courthouse” wouldn’t work?
A: No it wouldn’t. Sure, no one’s going to ever misunderstand what you’re trying to say, but it’s not good grammar.

Q: Okay, but what about “I went to the courthouse and successfully put away a criminal for assault & battery”?
A: You’re really loving your cafe/courthouse thing this week, aren’t you?

Q: Yes. Yes I am.
A: Okay, well this one does present a stronger case, as the two parts are linked, but the style remains with “and”.

Q: Objection!
A: Overruled. However, if you have a company name, brand name or are addressing (Mr & Mrs Smith) or citing names (e.g. Masters & Johnson, 1963), then it’s ampersand.

Q: So, “the criminal used a Smith & Wesson to steal a Dolce & Gabbana bag from the Barnes & Noble store”?
A: Yes, exactly – open and shut case. Big brands like Barnes & Noble and D&G have ampersands that feature heavily in their logos and wording. The only place it has used “and” is in the website URL name (no symbols allowed) and search results.

Q: Are there any other times you can use “&”?
A: Things like headlines or charts to save on space. After that, it comes down to house style – some places are more flexible, while others don’t even like it in company names (e.g. they might insist on it being “Barnes and Noble” all the time). Also, many people find them handy when you have multiple items in a list.

Q: I know what you mean there. At my cafe, we sell sandwiches. And the menu has the different flavours as: “ham, tuna, chicken and salad”. Now, is that four flavours or three?
A: It reads like four flavours, but if you’d had “chicken & salad” then people would assume it was actually three flavours – with the last two being ingredients in the same sandwich. That’s where using “&” in place of “and” – as well as adding that extra “serial/Oxford comma” – can help make more sense of lists. We'll talk about those commas another time.

Q: So one final question, your honour. Should this section be called Q and A?
A: We treat it as a brand. So, in that sense, “Q&A” has a nice snug fit.

Q: No further questions…
A: Case dismissed. Now, can we get four cappuccinos please?


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