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.

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 in a sentence. The answer is typically no on both fronts. Spaces before slashes should be avoided. The only time it’s acceptable to use a space after a slash is when breaking up lines of a poem, song, or play.

Weekly Grammar Tips
Weekly Grammar Tips
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  • Jason Thompson

    Absolutely and completely understood. Makes sense.

    Also, I don’t want Grammarly to correct my use of a space before and after a slash. I know it isn’t correct. When sending messages through nearly any web based communication, you can’t know where line breaks will happen for the receiver. You do know line breaks will not happen in a case like “tornado/hurricane”, where two long words separated by only a slash can make a very long “word” which wraps awkwardly.

    Basically, I want to do it my way (space before and after slashes), even while knowing it is wrong, and I want to configure Grammarly to not care. Is that possible?

    [psst! Why isn’t Grammarly checking my text here on Grammarly’s site?]

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