• 3-minute read
  • 18th November 2018

Forward Slash or Backslash? (What You Need to Know)

The difference between a backslash and a forward slash might not seem much. But these symbols aren’t interchangeable, and only one is technically used as punctuation. Find out how to use these symbols correctly by reading our guide.

The Forward Slash ( / )

The forward slash is a common punctuation mark, especially in less formal writing. It is usually used in place of ‘or’ when presenting a series of options or alternatives:

Every student must do his/her reading before class.

Using a slash between ‘his’ and ‘her’ here is the same as saying ‘his or her’. Generally, though, you would not use a forward slash like this in formal writing, where writing ‘or’ would be standard.

The forward slash has other uses, too, including the following:

  • Writing fractions or as a division sign (e.g. 3/5 = three fifths)
  • Writing the date (e.g. 21/04/1986 = 21 April 1986)
  • To mean ‘per’ in a measurement (e.g. 10 m/s = ten metres per second)
  • In certain abbreviations (e.g. c/o = care of, n/a = not applicable)
  • To separate lines of poetry when written on a single line (e.g. And both that morning equally lay/In leaves no step had trodden black)
  • Website URLs (e.g. https://getproofed.com.au/)

You may also see a slash used to indicate a relationship between two things:

You are cordially invited to the Smith/Mann wedding.

This is fine in informal writing, but technically you should use an en-dash:

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You are cordially invited to the Smith–Mann wedding.

However, you can use a slash for a relationship in formal writing when one or more of the things being connected is already hyphenated:

You are cordially invited to the Harding-Rolls/Mann wedding.

Here, since one of the surnames is double-barrelled, using a slash is clearer.

The Backslash ( \ )

The backslash is a ‘typographical mark’ (i.e. something you can type on a computer). However, it is not a punctuation mark and you will only usually see it in computing. Specifically, the backslash is primarily used in programming languages and file directories on Windows computers. So unless you are writing about computers, you should not need to use this symbol very often.

Summary: Forward Slash or Backslash?

Although these symbols look similar, forward slashes and backslashes have different uses. These are as follows:

  • The forward slash ( / ) can be used to mean ‘or’ when presenting alternatives (e.g. his/her), as well as for writing out dates, fractions, abbreviations, and URLs in various situations.
  • The backslash ( \ ) is mostly used in computing, not as a punctuation mark.

We hope this clarifies how slashes are used in writing. Let us know if you would like any help checking the punctuation in your written work.

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