I've just discovered that "&" was considered the 27th letter of the alphabet, being part of alphabet songs.

It was easy to discover its history (the information on the website Fast Company is repeated on many other websites), but nowhere have I found a reference to why and when it was dropped out of the alphabet.

I can only guess it was dropped out because it represents a whole word rather than a sound, but I still can find no references as to when that happened.


This question isn't a duplicate of & as a letter in the alphabet? because that question is about how '&' could have been considered a letter and become part of the alphabet.

Yes, the answers to that question (and the first answer to my own question) helped me understand that ampersend was never truly considered a letter, nor was it ever a true part of the alphabet (though I suspect children may have thought of it as its 27th letter). Just... something annexed to it?

Following that new knowledge, I adjusted the question: when did '&' stop being taught alongside the alphabet?

  • 1
    The answer to this question suggests that it was added to the alphabet 'accidentally', or perhaps 'incidentally', so was never really considered a part of the alphabet at all. Jul 7, 2019 at 9:50
  • Probably when teachers’ supply stores stopped offering those big horizontal banners showing how to form letters and symbols in cursive writing, which itself was no longer relevant after the widespread adoption of the ballpoint pen, although it lingered on for decades. Jul 7, 2019 at 14:54
  • @GlobalCharm: Ok. And when was that? Jul 7, 2019 at 15:23
  • The patent on the Biro pen was issued in 1938. Cursive has not yet been extinguished from schools, although for argument’s sake, let’s say that by 2018 it’s role had been diminished past the point of no return. The midpoint of this 80-year transition would be in 1980. Jul 7, 2019 at 16:37
  • Why would this be any different than any other punctuation? Why would the ampersand have a special status different than, say, the period, comma, or question mark? I'm confused by the statement that it was once taught alongside the alphabet but no longer is. Are you suggesting that schools don't teach punctuation any more—or that they do, but no longer discuss the ampersand? Jul 7, 2019 at 17:44

1 Answer 1


If '&' has ever been a letter of any alphabet, then it involved a very strange idea of what an alphabet it. It is the only 'letter' that that spells only one word, namely the word it 'spells'. What is more, according to the 'Fast Company', who seem a bit too fast for me. Merriam Webster's definition of 'Letter' in the alphabetic sense is:-

: a symbol usually written or printed representing a speech sound and constituting a unit of an alphabet

& does not represent a speech sound. If it did, then we should all be writing s&nd for sand, and inl& waterway. Nobody ever did that, not even in the Victorian classroom.

Moreover, it is not the only symbol used exclusively to stand for a word, and only one word. The symbol '@' stands for 'at'. Originally it was an accounting symbol connected to price and rate.

50 metres of silk @ £5.35 per metre

A loan of £5,000 @ 5% per annum

But now, most people only come across the symbol as referring to 'at' an email address. And the '£' itself is such a symbol. They are all what may be called 'unireferential': they refer to just one word. They are not in themselves phonetic.

This does answer your direct question. But the real question is why it should have ever been taught as part of the alphabet. Presumably, because it was important enough for children to know it. But so far I have not found an historical account of why it became so important at that time. Presumably, because it was more widely used in official and public writing. People like clerks would need to know it. But that is a speculation on my part. Once it is thought necessary to be learned in schools, the obvious context in which to teach it would be alongside whatever children in public elementary schools had to memorise: the obvious candidate is on the end of the alphabet. So there it stood as the (metaphorical) 27th letter. Why did it drop out again? In the absence of evidence, my guess is that as the 19th century proceeded and general literacy improved, the use of abbreviation of this kind in continuous writing came to be frowned on.

  • 1
    Thanks for clarifying it was never truly considered a letter (though I'm sure the kids learning it thought ot it that way). Jul 7, 2019 at 12:42
  • @SaraCosta I agree.
    – Tuffy
    Jul 7, 2019 at 14:37

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.