Splish, Splash … How to Use the Slash

We all recognize the slash (/) as an integral part of a URL, the Uniform Resource Locater affiliated with website addresses: http://www.RuthlessEditor.com

The slash has other useful applications in personal and business writing, and it has other names: solidus, slant, diagonal, virgule, forward slash, front slash, oblique stroke, shill.

The slash generally does not require a space on either side of it. (Exception: when used to show separate lines of poetry, songs or plays.*)

Here’s how and where to use the slash appropriately.

Use it as a substitute for the word or when you indicate a choice:

He prefers classes with a pass/fail option.
Please bring a foldup/inflatable mattress for sleeping in the cabin.
Take your pick: Spending cuts/tax increases will be required to balance the budget.

Use it informally to create an abbreviation:

I can’t get to the meeting w/o (without) directions.
Can you help me w/ (with) this report?
Send it to that address c/o (in care of) James Preston.
If a category on a form doesn’t apply to you, write n/a (not applicable).

Use it to show a connecting or conflicting relationship between words:

When asked how they feel, many people misuse the bad/badly distinction.
I rewrite sentences that offer a he/she pronoun choice.
Adopted children can have strong opinions on the nature/nurture debate.

Here are more uses for a slash.

A slash can mean per:

  • He starts the new job at $25/hour.
  • North American hummingbirds’ wings average 53 beats/second in normal flight.

A slash can indicate combined with:

  • He works at home in a spare bedroom/office space.
  • The psychiatrist is the manager/therapist in that practice.
  • She became president/CEO four months ago.

Slashes with numbers:

  • For Americans, 9/11 is quickly recognized as the date of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
  • Some use the slash when expressing dates entirely in numbers (12/23/2018), and some use hyphens (12-23-2018) or periods (12.23.2018).
  • Other times, the month is written out or abbreviated: December 23, 2018, or Dec. 23, 2018.

As is the case of using either the slash or the hyphen in dates, punctuation — one aspect of grammar in general — continues to be governed “two-thirds by rule and one-third by personal taste,” observed author G. V. Carey decades ago.

What’s important is consistency: Choose how you want to express something, and for the sake of your reader, stick with it. Consistency contributes to readability.

*When writing lines from poems or song lyrics, use a slash with a space before and after to show original line separation:

Mary had a little lamb / Its fleece was white as snow / And everywhere that Mary went / the lamb was sure to go.

Can your think of someone who might appreciate these slash insights? Please share!

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)