In addition to punctuation marks, which are universal among most written languages and indicate how we should interpret the written information, there exists a number of written signs that can take the place of words in the English language. Read on to find a list of 5 commonly used written signs and symbols in English writing and guidelines on how to use them.
1. Ampersand (&)
The & symbol, called an ampersand, is a symbol that means “and.” You may commonly see the ampersand used in brand names and titles. Different writing styles have different guidelines for whether to use the ampersand. For example, Associated Press style instructs not to use one unless it’s part of a formal title, while Chicago style permits its use when stylistic preference calls for it. In any style, you don’t need to use a comma before an ampersand because the two symbols next to each other are considered extraneous.
2. Asterisk (*)
The asterisk, which derives its name from the Greek word asteriskos meaning little star, has multiple uses that you can typically figure out by examining the context. In formal and academic writing, the asterisk indicates the use of a footnote. An asterisk in a newspaper or magazine article may indicate an edited expletive. In social media writing it has evolved to indicate emphasis, as in: You *must* try this new decadent flavor of ice cream.
Oftentimes, an asterisk at the end of a sentence indicates that you should look for another asterisk at the bottom of the page or end of the document for more relevant details, rules, or exceptions. For example:
Phone Plans Available for New Low Price of $40 a Month!*
Visit Bob’s Cell Phones to take advantage of this amazing deal today!
*$40 a month promotional price available to new customers only.
3. Plus (+)
The plus symbol is used to indicate an addition in a mathematical equation, while in writing it is used to mean “more than” or “over.” In the acronym LGBTQI+, the plus symbol indicates that the English language is constantly evolving, and the term seeks to include those who may neither identify as man or woman, extending beyond those who identify as gay, transgender, etc.
4. At (@)
Today we associate the @ symbol, meaning at, almost exclusively with social media tags and email addresses. Prior to the age of email, @ was most commonly used commercially in purchase orders. The at symbol is considered to be shorthand and is therefore not typically used in any formal writing style.
5. Dollar ($)
Whether you use the American dollar sign in your writing, as opposed to writing out the word “dollars,” will vary depending on the style guide you are using for your writing. For example, MLA style typically writes out number figures with the word dollar whereas Associated Press style writes out numerals with the $ symbol.
In many contexts, our brains are accustomed to seeing the use of the $ sign. For example, when looking at a menu in a restaurant, it would be unusual to see a price listed as 18 dollars rather than $18.
For specified amounts, the dollar sign indicates that a singular verb should be used.
Correct: He said $13,000 is the cost of the car.
Incorrect: He said $13,000 are the cost of the car.
Susan is an English educator, editor, and writer who has enjoyed working within these fields since 2004. Her experience includes teaching at the high school and adult continuing education levels, and writing and editing for multiple regional publications, including Wrightsville Beach Magazine and Encore Magazine. Today she is a copywriter and editor for CastleBranch Inc., as well as editor in chief for the company’s internal e-magazine. A Southern transplant who moved from Ohio to North Carolina, she has embraced the word “y’all” and can tell you how she likes her grits. Check out her official website.