There are some symbols we write without much thought. We use an ampersand as a substitute for “and.” We use % to note a percentage. We use $ to talk about money.
But a symbol that replaces a preposition? Preposterous!
Or is it? You probably use the @ symbol in your writing more than you think. But can the at symbol replace more than one word in a work?
That depends on what you are writing, who is your target audience and where it is being applied.
Disclaimer: There are technical cases where the @ symbol can be applied within scientific writing and programming languages—these won’t be visited within this blog post.
Replacing “at” with @
In most instances where you can use the @ symbol in your writing, it is to stand in place of the word “at” in familiar forms of writing—think texts, emails and scribbled-out notes. The @ symbol has slipped its way into conversational communication because of its convenient placement on the desktop and mobile keyboard.
Keep in mind that the @ symbol is not appropriate for formal writing. If you are writing a college paper or a letter to your grandparents, it’s best to write out “at” in your composition.
The most historical way to use the @ symbol in your writing is to indicate price. For many centuries (including today), the at symbol was a shorthand way to replace “at” or “at the rate of.” You often see this symbol used on grocery store signs and on invoices.
Here’s an example. 10 pints of ice cream @ $2 per pint = $20 reads as “ten pints of ice cream at 2 dollars per pint equals twenty dollars.”
Let’s start with the most common use of the at symbol. You can use the @ symbol in your writing when sending an email. It’s not a requirement to include the at symbol within your email message, but it’s certainly necessary if you want that email to send successfully to your recipient.
An email address includes the @ symbol between the recipient’s username and email domain, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. We read this email address as “sample at email dot com.” In other words, the at symbol notes where that username is located.
Most email providers support this neat little email writing trick. Within the body of the email, you can use the @ symbol in your writing by typing the at symbol followed by your recipient’s name (no spaces between symbol or name). If your recipient is found within your contacts, a dropdown menu appears where you can click or tap on the recipient’s name. This adds their name to the To field of your email.
Is it really too taxing to type out your recipient’s email address within the To field? The shortcut was (most likely) not designed for the desktop user who have access to a full-size keyboard. Many mobile users find the shortcut useful when sending emails on the go, especially on small screens where tapping around isn’t convenient.
Twitter is the most recognized way to use the @ symbol in your writing—micro-writing, that is. A username on this social media platform—often called a Twitter handle—applies the at symbol before the username, such as @KLWightman (in case you want to follow my tweets). To mention another Twitter user, simply use their Twitter handle (@ symbol + username) within your tweet.
Facebook’s application of the at symbol is a blend of the Twitter and email approach. When you want to mention a user, group or page in a Facebook post, first type the @ symbol before the name (again, no spaces between both). A dropdown menu appears with your options based on your connections.
Home Games in Sports
In U.S. sports, you can use the @ symbol in your writing when referencing a specific game, match or competition. The at symbol is applied to callout the home team for a particular sporting event.
This example can better explain. Saturday, August 29: Louisville Bats @ Columbus Clippers means that the Louisville Bats are playing at the home venue of the Columbus Clippers on Saturday, August 29th.
Remember that this rarely applies outside of American English. Most British English-speaking nations follow the standard of listing the home team first.