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What Are Forward Slashes ( / ) And How Do You Use Them?

The forward slash is a versatile punctuation mark that can be used in a variety of places. You can use one to say that you are a master of grammar and/or spelling. You can use one to describe where you were when the new millennium started on 1/1/2001. You can even use one to say which side you support in the fiercely contested “toilet paper over/under the holder” debate. The forward slash can do all of this and more as long as you know the best ways to use this particular punctuation mark.

What is a forward slash?

A forward slash, often just called a slash, is a punctuation mark with several different uses in writing. It resembles a slanted line tilted toward the right (/) and can be confused with the backslash, a symbol that resembles a line tilted toward the left (\).

Backslashes point in the opposite direction of forward slashes and are primarily used in programming languages. Interestingly enough, backslashes are newer than forward slashes, due to technology. To distinguish the old slash (/) from the newer technical backslash (\), the term forward slash entered English in the 1980s as a retronym, much in the same way that snail mail became a term for what was once just called mail. So when people say slash they probably mean the forward slash.

✏️ Examples of a forward slash in a sentence

The forward slash can be used in several different ways. The following sentences demonstrate some of the different uses of the forward slash:

  • I wrote a haiku: The winter snow falls / everything becomes like ice / all hope is now gone.
  • The store accepts cash and/or credit cards.
  • We only had of the amount of concrete that we needed.
  • She was born on 3/14/1988.
  • This issue was part of the larger nature/nurture debate.

When to use a forward slash

The forward slash has a variety of uses. The “meaning” of the forward slash largely depends on how it is used in a sentence. Let’s look at some examples of when we would want to use a forward slash.

Lines of poetry

A commonly accepted use of the forward slash, even in formal writing, is to indicate line separations in poetry. The slash represents what would normally be a line break if the text was formatted using verse rather than prose.

For example, let’s say a poem is originally formatted like this:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Grammar is cool,
And forward slashes are, too!

If we wanted to quote this poem in a work that uses prose and not verse, we could write it like this:

  • Roses are red, / Violets are blue. / Grammar is cool, / and forward slashes are, too!

Relationships and conflicts

We can use a forward slash to indicate that two (or more) things have a close relationship or are in opposition to each other. For example,

  • Those two had a love/hate relationship.
  • Currently, I work out of my apartment/home office/makeshift art studio.
  • I don’t know what to think about the Star Wars/Star Trek feud. I like both!

Sometimes, a writer may use an em dash in place of a forward slash in this instance.

Alternatives

A forward dash can be used to state alternatives. A sentence that uses a forward slash in this way can be read to mean that any or all of the stated words could apply.

For example, look at the following sentence:

  • As payment, we accept cash and/or heartfelt compliments.

This sentence means three things: someone can pay with cash, someone can pay with compliments, or someone can pay with both cash and compliments. All three situations are presented as possible and acceptable alternatives to one another. Here are some more examples of a forward slash used this way:

  • If/when I have kids, I’ll buy a big house.
  • That dormitory is reserved for seniors/graduate students/staff.
  • Each person is free to live his/her own life.

Fractions

In writing, the forward slash is commonly used when transcribing fractions. For example,

  • The survey showed that of the country supported the new law.

It is important to remember that you don’t have to write fractions this way. A writer may instead write out the fraction rather than use numerals, as in:

  • The survey showed that four-fifths of the country supported the new law.

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Abbreviations

Informally, a forward slash is sometimes used in certain abbreviations. For example,

  • He mixed 3 cups of sugar w/ 1 gallon of water. (The letter W replaces the word with.)

Dates

Informally, forward slashes are commonly used to write dates with the slashes separating the month, day, and then the year (or day, month, and then year in British English).

  • I graduated on 5/25/2011 (May 25, 2011).

Per

A forward slash is used as a substitute for the word per when stating measurements:

  • This car gets 100 miles/gallon (miles per gallon).
  • She works a $30/hour ($30 per hour) job.

Website addresses

Website URLs often include slashes. These slashes are kept when a URL is mentioned in written text:

  • I found that information at www.madestuffup.lol/fake/fooled-you/

How to use a forward slash

In general, the forward slash is easy to use. Most of the time, you simply place forward slashes without spaces in between the things they are being used to link together.

❌  Incorrect: Unless you were the king / queen, life was hard in the country.
✅ Correct: Unless you were the king/queen, life was hard in the country.

The exception to this is when using forward slashes to separate lines of poetry. The exact rules will depend on the style guide/grammar resource that you use, but most recommend using a space either before, after, or both before and after slashes when separating lines of poetry.

  • May be considered improper: The sun is rising/the morning light brings us hope/we can face the day.
  • May be preferred: The sun is rising / the morning light brings us hope / we can face the day.

How well do you know the difference between backslashes and forward slashes? Test your knowledge here!

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Back it up a moment and review backslashes here.

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