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.

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