The Slash

The slash (/), also called the oblique, the virgule, the stroke, the solidus or the shilling mark, has several uses, all of them rather minor.

First, it is used to separate alternatives:

Applicants must possess a good university degree in French and/or have worked for two years in a French-speaking country.
Each candidate must bring his/her identity card.
If your work is badly punctuated, your reader may quickly decide that s/he has better things to do.

This usage is rather hard on the eye, and it is usually preferable to write the alternatives out in full:

Each candidate must bring his or her identity card.

This style is particularly frequent in job advertisements:

The University of Saffron Walden wishes to appoint a lecturer/senior lecturer in media studies.

Second, the slash may be used to represent a period of time:

The 1994/95 football season was marred by frequent scandals.
This office is open Tuesday/Saturday each week.

Third, the slash is used, especially in scientific writing, to represent the word per in units:

The density of iron is 7.87 g/cm3.
Light travels at 300,000 km/sec.

Fourth, the slash is used in writing fractions, as in ¾ or 3/4; in this use, it is often called the scratch.

Fifth, the slash is used in writing certain abbreviations. Virtually the only one of these you will find outside of specialist contexts is c/o for `care of' in addresses:

Write to me at Sylvia Keller, c/o Andrea Mason, 37 The Oaks, Plumtree, East Sussex BN17 4GH.

Finally, slashes are used to separate lines of poetry when a poem is written solid, instead of being set out line by line:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep/And nodding by the fire, take down this book/And slowly read of the soft look/Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep. (W. B. Yeats)

Copyright © Larry Trask, 1997

Maintained by the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex