Slashes

Professional Writer and Editor

The slash (also sometimes referred to as the solidus, forward slash, slant, or virgule) is most commonly used to designate lines of poetry, paired terms, alternative names, dates, abbreviations, fractions, and URL addresses and computer directories.

Using Slashes in Poetry

A slash is often used to separate two or three lines of poetry that are run into text in order to designate where the original line breaks occurred. Add a space (or a half space, if in desktop publishing programs) before and after the slash when it is used in this way.

Examples: 

“All the world’s a stage / And all the people in it merely players.”

“I went out alone / To sing a song or two.”

For more than three lines of poetry, it is common to treat the text as a block quotation.

Examples: 

My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date,
But when in thee time's furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.

—William Shakespeare

When poetry is set as a block quotation, quotation marks are generally not used.

Using Slashes in Paired Terms

In informal writing, the slash can be used for paired terms such as on/off. Even in casual writing a slash should be used in this way only sparingly, and such constructions should generally be avoided in formal writing. When used with paired terms, the slash does not have a space before or after it.

Not: 

Before beginning work, make sure to check the on/off valve.
Well, it’s not really a yes/no type of question.
Unfortunately, she’s known for her hot/cold personality.

Avoid using such expressions as and/or, he/she, and his/her. Write these terms out instead.

Not: 

When a new employee arrives for the first day of work, he/she should be prepared to sign the necessary company policy documents.
Employees may be terminated immediately for inappropriate conduct and/or suspicious behavior.

But:

When a new employee arrives for the first day of work, he or she should be prepared to sign the necessary company policy documents. (For more information on how to treat gender pronouns in writing, see the article entitled “Writing without Bias.”)
Employees may be terminated immediately for inappropriate conduct or suspicious behavior or both.

Note: Though not appropriate in most other contexts, the expression and/or is common and acceptable in legal writing.

Using Slashes for Alternative Names

Slashes can also be used to designate alternative spellings or names.

Examples: 

Elizabeth/Beth/Betty/Liz
Civil War/War Between the States
Zeus/Jupiter

Using Slashes in Dates

Dates can be written informally by using a slash to separate the month from the day and the year.

Examples: 

My sister was born on 06/12/1992.
The company was founded on 7/7/07.
Our office will be moving sometime in 10/09.
The meeting has been rescheduled for 6/17.

For the last two examples, context indicates that the first represents the month and year and the second represents the month and day.

Using Slashes in Abbreviations

Slashes are sometimes used in informal and technical writing in place of per.

Examples: 

The fastest we’ve ever clocked our sailboat is 15 m/hr.
Spend no more than $200/month on food.

They are also sometimes used as a form of shorthand, as in the term c/o.

Examples: 

Please send the letter c/o Mary Jane Didier.
The CEO s/b arriving before 7 p.m.

Abbreviations such as the one illustrated in the latter example directly above should be reserved for very informal contexts.

Using Slashes in Fractions

Slashes can be used to designate fractions in informal text.

Examples: 

Only 1/3 of the employees attended the benefits meeting.
More than 3/4 of the people who came were late.

Using Slashes in Internet Address and Computer Directories

Slashes are regularly used in Internet addresses. No space should come before or after the slash.

Examples: 

To learn more, visit our Web site at http://www.justanexample.org/info.

To designate computer directories (or folders), either the slash or backslash (also called the backward slash) is used, depending on the operating system.

Examples: 

To find the folder, browse to C:\Documents and Settings\All Users.
The file should be in users/jane/work.

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