When reading or writing, you may come cross a slash from time to time. As you know, there are two kinds of slashes, the forward slash (/) and the backslash (\). In writing, we only use forward slashes (/). Backslashes (\) are mainly reserved for computer coding.
Forward slashes serve many purposes. They’ve existed in poetry for many years and even have a place in the world of abbreviations. They also work well with numbers, including dates and ratios. So, let’s take a look at to this multi-faceted piece of punctuation.
Forward slashes may also be referred to as virgules. Sounds pretty, right? Seems appropriate, given that slashes dance across many areas of our writing. Let’s begin with one of the oldest methods of writing that love a good forward slash, poetry.
Do you like to light up your life with painted words? Poetry likes to employ slashes to separate lines of prose.
Here’s an example:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; / Coral is farm more red than her lips' red; / If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; / If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
(Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130)
Next, we have the and/or scenario. Forward slashes tend toward informal pieces of writing. They’re sort of like an illustration of the word “or.”
In its truest form, a forward slash is either going to indicate a connection between two things or a conflicting idea/relationship. Again, let’s think of it more as an illustration than a form of punctuation.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say we were planning a trip to the moon and we wanted to make a connection between our charted courses. Our resident astronaut might say, “In order to make a successful landing on the moon, we’re going to take the Mars/Venus route into space.”
In this example, the forward slash is acting as a connector between two distinct locales that are both a part of our charted course.
Here’s another example:
A forward slash is so multi-faceted it can indicate a connection and/or a conflicting relationship. Let’s say two siblings were at odds over what type of cookies to make for Christmas this year. Mom might say, “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but no matter what, our Scott/Marie cookies are going to be fabulous.”
In this example, the forward slash is drawing together two conflicting ideas in order to make one, sweeping statement.
If you’ve ever made a study of abbreviations, you may have noticed a slash or two.
Did you notice that each of these examples have an air of informality? You’d never write “w/you” in an academic paper. However, in less formal settings, forward slashes help us shorten our writing.
This is an easy one. And it also goes to show how forward slashes are reserved for more informal documents.
Would you write “1/4 of the population is happy,” or “one-fourth of the population is happy”?
Well, it depends on the nature of your writing. If this was an academic paper, you’d want to write out the words “one-fourth” in lieu of the fraction. But, if this was a quick recipe or something less formal, feel free to use the forward slash.
Next up, we have dates. You can write out December 25, 2025, or you can write shorten it to 12/25/2025, or even 12/25/25.
Even though it’s true that slashes are used informally, many formal writings will accept a forward slash when dealing with dates.
Just be careful because some methods of citation might prefer a hyphen (-). So, for example, you may be required to write 12-25-2025. It’s always worth the extra ounce of effort to check and double check your teacher’s preferred method of citation.
That is the question! Many students wonder if they should place a space before/after their forward slashes. The answer is no. Did you notice that the only time a space was used was in Shakespeare’s sonnet? Use that as a point of reference. Spaces are almost never required, unless you’re writing one of the greatest love poems of all time.
And there you have it! The forward slash may not be the most common form of punctuation, but it’s certainly multi-faceted. You’re most likely to see them used in dates and “and/or” situations. As long as it’s not your college-level thesis paper, you can feel free to employ a good ‘ol slash from time to time. That’s the beauty of the English language! We’re free to spice it up in so many ways, including the illustrative virgule.