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Better English Punctuation: Forward and Back Slashes

Updated: Feb 21

In a park, a man in blue martial arts uniform holding a sword watches a woman wearing a dark blue tracksuit wielding a sword
Slashing with a sword

Introduction - Better English punctuation: learning to use forward and back slashes

The slash is a punctuation mark that English teachers often overlook.

They assume that students know what it’s called and know how to use it.

In this article I want to teach you about two different types of slash: a backslash (\) and a forward slash (/).

You can find them on your keyboard.

The backslash key is below ‘backspace’.

 And the forward slash is between the full stop/right arrow key and the pause/shift key.

And you can see that I have used the forward slash in that last sentence to show how it’s used.

In these cases, it’s used to show that a key has two functions: a ‘pause’ AND a ‘shift’. But it can also mean ‘and’ or ‘or’. More about that later!

Why is it called a 'slash'?

Now, before I go too much further, you might be wondering why it’s called a ‘slash’.

Imagine a person with a sword, waving it through the air, making a cutting movement, from top to bottom.

Or, waved at an angle to ‘cut’ the air. Well, there you have a slash!

Look at the picture above.

Forget the backslash

I won’t be too concerned with the backslash here, because it’s only used in computer programming.

Instead, I’ll be focusing on the forward slash.

We refer to the punctuation mark as either a ‘slash’ or a ‘forward slash’.

We say ‘slash’ (meaning forward slash and writing or typing the symbol) when we refer to something as 'either/or'. It's one thing or the other.

Or ‘and/or’.

Or even ‘if/when’.

There are others, but these are the main uses of the slash.

Slashes used in URLs

In URLs it’s important to specify (and I don’t know why because we don’t use ‘backslashes’ in URLs) the mark is a ‘forward slash’.

Take this one: (You can click it to read more articles on punctuation.)

It has several forward slashes in it.

And if I were to dictate the URL address to you, I’d be saying this:

 “H-T-T-P-S, colon, forward slash - forward slash dot com - dot -a - u, forward slash, blog articles, forward slash, categories, forward slash, get better English punctuation.”

Use of the slash in poetry

Slashes show line breaks in poems, songs, or plays.

Especially if several short lines are being written together on one long line. Here is an example:

Jack and Jill/ *went up the hill/ to fetch a pail of water/ Jack fell down/ and broke his crown/ and Jill came tumbling after.

*Note there is a space after each slash.

Using the slash in writing

When we use a slash in a formal or informal text, it means the word 'or'. The examples below show this meaning of the slash in different contexts. In every case we say the word 'or', not 'slash'.

If/when John ever arrives, we can begin our journey. (If or when... It can also mean 'if and when'.)

After the workers had left the room, the supervisor noticed that someone had left his/her bag behind.

James: “Chinese or Italian for dinner, Mary?”

Mary: “Oh, James, either/or is fine with me.”

To register online you should have a passport and/or driver’s licence to prove your identity.

The slash used in abbreviations

When we want to use abbreviations or shortened forms of words or phrases, we can use slashes. For example:

w/o = without

c/o = care of (used when posting a letter or parcel e.g. Mr John Smith, C/o Mr P James, 27 Broad St, Melbourne, 3000).

a/c = air conditioning or ‘account’ which is actually A/c

Note too, that in these cases, no space is necessary after the slash.

Using the slash in dates or fractions

Examples will suffice to explain:

2/11/2006 – a date

½ - Type a ‘1’ then a / then a ‘2’. The computer transforms into the fraction automatically.

The slash used to show conflict or opposing sides or even agreement.

The pro-mask/anti-mask issue divided the country during the pandemic. (Choosing to say 'slash' or not here is OK.)

The website developer works at home in her bedroom/home office.

(Do say 'slash' here.)


The slash (the forward slash and back slash) is useful to know to help you get better English punctuation. And to write better English.

I have shown you how it is used in several ways, in several contexts.

And finally, now you know how to say /.

Further Reading

You can learn about other useful punctuation marks in the articles I have written and learn from this article why it is important to learn to use punctuation marks.

© Apex English Tutoring January 2024

man in striped green long-sleeved shirt is talking on a mobile phone

About Me

Hello and welcome!

My name is Michael Finemore and I am the owner-operator of Apex English Tutoring.

As an experienced English Teacher, I'm passionate about helping people turn their 'poor' English into great English, with easy and effective ways to practice.

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