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English Punctuation: Forward and Back Slashes

Updated: Nov 24

Slashing with swords represents the punctuation mark the slash.

Introduction - Better English punctuation: learning forward and back slashes

A punctuation mark that English teachers often overlook in their instruction is the slash. They assume that students know what it’s called and know equally its uses. Eager to be engaged in more ‘interesting’ topics of instruction they overlook this increasingly important punctuation mark.

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

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, perhaps at an angle to ‘cut’ the air or someone. Well, there you have a slash!

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

Instead, I’ll be focusing on the forward slash. Again, I’ll pause to explain that depending on the context, 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. Or ‘and/or’. Or even ‘if/when’.

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

In the context of 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’.


has a number of forward slashes in it. And if I were to dictate the URL address to you, I’d be saying “… dot com a - u, forward slash, blog, forward slash, categories, forward slash, vocabulary hyphen development.”

Use of the slash in poetry

A slash is used to show a line break in a poem, a song, or a play, usually 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.

When a slash is used in a formal or informal text, it is meant to indicate the word or. The examples below show this meaning of the slash in different contexts:

If/when John ever arrives, we can begin our journey.

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

“Chinese or Italian for dinner, Mary?”

“Oh, James, either/or is just 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’

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 (originally a ‘1’ then a / then a ‘2’, transforms into the fraction automatically on the computer) but it can be written in a similar way to show ‘ half’).

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

The pro-mask/anti-mask issue divided the country during the pandemic.

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


The slash (the forward slash and back slash) is useful to know to help you get better English punctuation. I have shown you how it is used in several ways, in several contexts. And finally, now you know how to say /.

You can learn about other useful punctuation marks in the articles I have written.

Lastly, if you enjoyed this article, please share it on your socials with your friends. It's easy: just copy the URL and post.

(c) Apex English Tutoring Dec 2020 - Updated Nov 2023

Man in long-sleeved striped shirt talking on mobile phone

About the Author

Michael Finemore, MA (Research) CQU, TEFL/TESOL Certificate, an experienced English Teacher, is the Owner-Operator of Apex English Tutoring.

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