The Proper Use of the Forward Slash in English

The forward slash is a punctuation mark to indicate several different things. The forward slash is often called a slash and is also called a stroke, or an oblique. The forward slash (/) is different from the backslash (\) in that the backslash is only used in computer coding and the forward slash is used in writing composition. The meaning of the slash is determined by the context of the sentence.

Forward Slash

What Does the Slash Mean?

The slash is often used to indicate the word “or” in many cases. The slash is also used when writing poetry, song lyrics, or the script of a play in a sentence. The slash indicates the poetic line breaks. When using a slash to show poetic breaks, you should include a space after the slash.

Here’s an example: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star/ How I wonder what you are!”

When Is It Appropriate To Use A Slash?

Here are the times when it is appropriate to use a slash:

1. To indicate the word “or”.


  • “When getting off the bus, I noticed that someone had left his/her backpack.”
  • “When coming to the retreat, be sure to bring linens/sleeping bag.”
  • “Dear Madam/Sir”

2. To show the breaks of poetic lines.


  • “The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout./ Down came the rain, and washed the spider out./ Out came the sun, and dried up all the rain,/ and the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.”

3. To form an abbreviation


  • without can be “w/o”; care of can be “c/o” (this is used when addressing a letter or parcel to an organization and meant to go to an individual who works or lives there)

Note, in this case, you do not include a space after the slash.

4. To indicate conflicting and connecting relationships

A slash can be used to show the conflict or connection between two words, terms, or phrases in a sentence.


  • Those who’ve lived in South Dakota for even a short time recognize the east state/west state differences.

5. To form a fraction

On most keyboards, most fractions cannot be typed, such as or, so it must be written out.


  • 3/8 (three eighths); 1/5 (one fifth).

6. To abbreviate dates


  • Instead of November 23, 2020, you can write 11/23/2020 (or 23/11/2020 for non-American).

7. To indicate the word “per”


  • m/hr (miles per hour)
  • 50 w/m (words per minute)
  • “The eggs cost $2.50/dozen.”
  • “The local station is charging €1.75/litre for petrol.” (€1.75 per litre)

8. To for an abbreviation of a word


  • “Let me give you my a/c number.” (account)
  • “I marked n/a on the form.” (not applicable)
  • “You will have to go w/o.” (without)

Be careful with your abbreviations because they can have more than one meaning. For instance, a/c can also mean air conditioning and n/a can mean not available.

9. As part of a website address



Final Comments

People wonder if it is appropriate to have spaces before and after a slash. Generally, there should not be a space next to the slash. One exception is to make poetic line breaks. Another exception is to separate a multi-word phrase, such as First Gulf War/ Second Gulf War.

One last piece of advice is to not over-use the slash. To use a slash too often can appear sloppy or lazy. Since it is used to abbreviate, the slash should be used with care with formal writing. The forward slash is a handy abbreviation tool, so use it well.

Forward Slash | Infographic

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