the ampersand today is used primarily in business names, but that small character was once the 27th part of the alphabet.

Is this true? Are there any more 'letters' removed from the English alphabet?

  • 1
    Most if not all of your question is already answered comprehensively here
    – Sam
    Jan 6, 2016 at 14:49
  • A character that's come into English relatively recently is "s." Even through World War I, the letter s was written the same as the letter f and appeared like a letter f without the cross, like an upside down J. Much like c has two sounds, so did the upside down J. It wasn't until after the war that s and f separated and took on their present appearance in English.. Jan 6, 2016 at 15:03
  • 2
    @BenjaminHarman: I believe the long-s (the one that looks like an f) was merely a convention among print press professionals at the time. Also, long-s was never used at the beginning or end of words. The short-s was in use far earlier than you claim.
    – cobaltduck
    Jan 6, 2016 at 15:12
  • I thought the alphabet always had character. Jan 7, 2016 at 1:27
  • 1
    @michael_timofeev; i thought the answer was going to be 'Mickey Mouse'
    – JMP
    Jan 7, 2016 at 2:26

2 Answers 2


According to the Wikipedia page on the Ampersand, this is true.

The ampersand often appeared as a letter at the end of the Latin alphabet, as for example in Byrhtferð's list of letters from 1011. Similarly, & was regarded as the 27th letter of the English alphabet, as used by children (in the US). An example may be seen in M. B. Moore's 1863 book The Dixie Primer, for the Little Folks.

Here is the page from The Dixie Primer, for the Little Folks:


Traditionally, when reciting the alphabet in English-speaking schools, any letter that could also be used as a word in itself ("A", "I", and, at one point, "O") was repeated with the Latin expression per se ("by itself").

This habit was useful in spelling where a word or syllable was repeated after spelling; e.g. "d, o, g—dog" would be clear but simply saying "a—a" would be confusing without the clarifying "per se" added.

It was also common practice to add the "&" sign at the end of the alphabet as if it were the 27th letter, pronounced as the Latin et or later in English as and. As a result, the recitation of the alphabet would end in "X, Y, Z, and per se and". This last phrase was routinely slurred to "ampersand" and the term had entered common English usage by 1837.

However, in contrast to the 26 letters, the ampersand does not represent a speech sound—although other characters that were dropped from the English alphabet did, such as the Old English thorn, wynn, and eth.

  • not meaning to be a bind, but '&' is now an English character, not a letter?
    – JMP
    Jan 6, 2016 at 14:39
  • @Jon Mark Perry, while & is an English character now, it used to be a letter. Aside from meaning et, it was also used to write words with æ in them, words like Michæl, Grætel and encyclopædia, now spelled Michael, Gretel and encyclopedia, were spelled Mich&l, Gr&tel, and encyclop&dia. Jan 6, 2016 at 14:51
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    @B I suspect that & was merely used as an approximation of æ rather than a canonical spelling.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 6, 2016 at 15:22
  • It was used as a letter. Before the Latin alphabet, English used the runic alphabet of futhark. The isaz ( ι ) was imported as &. Later, & split into i and æ. Now, i is i and y and æ has split out into ae, a, and e. Jan 6, 2016 at 16:33

This may be stretching strict answers, and I'm a little late to the game, (What's 17 months?) but if we look/listen to the song used to help children memorize the alphabet, & (as "and") could be considered the modern 26th item, placing Z at 27, though it's rarely still written as a list that way.

"...W X, Y & Z."

  • This doesn't answer the question.
    – AndyT
    Jun 19, 2017 at 10:28
  • I disagree. Just as Kyle offered a scan of an old letter chart showing "&" in the list, I offer the classic alphabet song English-speaking children are taught. I admitted that it was a stretch, as it's sung in word ("and") form, but language and the characters used to express it are an evolving thing up for evolving interpretation. I in no way mean to take away from the answer Kyle gave and agree with it. I'm merely offering another perspective and while it's not a strict answer to the history of the character, I think it adds some valid depth.
    – VoltisArt
    Nov 18, 2019 at 5:27
  • A lryric in a song about the alphabet is not IN the alphabet. Further, it does not answer the question about what was removed FROM the alphabet
    – AndyT
    Nov 20, 2019 at 15:18

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