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How to Use Slashes in Writing

Updated on January 14, 2021Grammar

There are two types of slashes: a backslash (\) and a forward slash (/). The backslash is used only for computer coding. The forward slash, often simply referred to as a slash, is a punctuation mark used in English. The only time it is appropriate to use a comma after a slash is when demonstrating breaks between lines of poetry, songs, or plays.

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What does / mean between words?

An explanation of what a forward slash means in a text depends on the context. Slashes can mean many different things, depending on how they are used.

To separate lines in prose

A slash can show a line break in a poem, song, or play, usually if several short lines are being written together on one long line. Consider the two examples below:

Mary had a little lamb/ little lamb, little lamb/ Mary had a little lamb/ whose fleece was white as snow.

The quality of mercy is not strained/ it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:/ It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Note that there is a space after each slash.

To indicate or

Often, when a slash is used in a formal or informal text, it is meant to indicate the word or. The examples below illustrate this meaning of the forward slash:

When leaving the classroom, the teacher noticed that a student had left his/her backpack.

College freshmen should bring a mattress and/or cot to sleep on during orientation.

If/when Mary ever shows up, we can all head out to the party together.

Burgers or pizza for dinner? Yeah, either/or is fine with me.

To form abbreviations

Slashes can also be used to form some abbreviations or shortened forms of words or phrases, although these shouldn’t be used in formal writing.

w/o = without

w/ = with

c/o = care of (used when posting a letter or parcel)

a/c = air conditioning

Notice that in these cases, no space is necessary after the slash.

To indicate connecting and conflicting relationships

Slashes can also be used to note that there is a connection or conflict between two words or phrases in a sentence. Some examples include:

The pro-life/pro-choice debate is a hot-button issue for many voters this election.

The designer often works in his bonus room/home office.

To denote dates and fractions

One of the most commonly recognized usages of the forward slash is to indicate dates and fractions:



Space before and after slash

Many people wonder whether to use a space before and after slashes. It depends. When a slash signifies alternatives between only two words, don’t use spaces before or after. 

When using slashes to signify alternatives between phrases or multi-word terms or compounds, a space before and after the slash makes text easier to read. Another time it’s acceptable to use a space after a slash is when breaking up lines of a poem, song, or play. In this case, a line break should be made after the slash.

Example: Add chili flakes and/or black pepper to the recipe.

Example: World War I / First World War


Mary had a little lamb /

Its fleece was white as snow

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