Slash or Virgule in Punctuation

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

slash/virgule
Bill Walsh calls the slash (or virgule) "a punctuation mark of last resort. It should be left in proper names and trademarks, if it's clear that that's what was intended, but in most other cases it can be replaced by a hyphen or a perfectly good English word, such as or or of or for" ( Lapsing Into a Comma, 2000). lvcandy/Getty Images

The slash or virgule is a forward sloping line (/) that serves as a mark of punctuation. Also called an oblique, an oblique stroke, a diagonal, a solidus, a forward slash, and a separatrix.

The slash is commonly used to:

  • signify alternatives (and/or)
  • separate the parts of a fraction (2/3), date (1/1/2017), or Internet address (http:// . . .)
  • mark line divisions in poetry quoted within running text

For additional uses, see Examples and Observations below.

According to most style guides, a space should precede and follow a slash used to mark line divisions in poetry. In other uses, no space should appear before or after a slash.

Etymology

From Old French, "splinter"

Examples and Observations

  • "[T]he slash is a punctuation mark that sprouts in legal and commercial jargon ('and/or') and should not be used outside those linguistic ghettos."
    (Rene J. Cappon, The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation. Basic, 2003)
  • "This calculator-converter provides online conversion of miles per hour to km/hour (mph to km/h) and conversion km/h to mi/h (kilometers/hour to miles/hour)."
    (Calculator-Converter.com)
  • The Slash as a Substitute for Or
    "The primary function of the slash is to substitute for the word or. Working as a kind of shorthand, the slash helps the hurried writer to jot down sentences such as these:
    - Please help yourself to milk and/or cookies from the refreshment table.
    - Every student is expected to bring his/her gym suit to class.
    - Ellen will travel to the conference by air/rail.
    "Though the slash appears more and more frequently these days, traditional grammarians do not consider the preceding sentences appropriate for formal writing. . . . To be perfectly safe, avoid the slash and substitute alternatives, such as or and similar words."
    (Geraldine Woods, Webster's New World Punctuation: Simplified and Applied. Wiley, 2006)
  • Marking Line Divisions in a Poem
    - "A slash is also used to indicate lines of poetry when they are not indented but are run into the text. Be sure to put a space before and after the slash.
    I've often wondered what Robert Frost meant by repeating the last two lines of 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening': 'And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.'"
    (Dawn Rodrigues and Myron Truman, A Norton Pocket Guide to Grammar and Punctuation. W.W. Norton, 2008)
    - "In 15 spare lines, from opening query ('Margaret, are you grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving?') to final couplet, [Gerard Manley] Hopkins covers a vast amount of ground."
    (Leah Hager Cohen, "Season of Grief." The New York Times, September 19, 2008)
  • Marking Dates
    "'Had there been proper coordination among the intelligence agencies, then 9/11 might well have been prevented,' Mr. [Arlen] Specter said, cataloging the intelligence failures investigated by the Sept. 11 panel."
    (Philip Shenon, "Senate Approves Intelligence Bill." The New York Times, December 9, 2004)
  • Marking Alternatives
    "The slash separates alternatives that may exist simultaneously in one person/place/thing/notion, or are offered up as possible choices. This is waffling territory at its most sublime! And why not, since this punctuation mark can't settle on one name for itself, but keeps its options open."
    (Karen Elizabeth Gordon, The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. Mariner Books, 2003)
  • Origins of the Slash and Solidus
    - "The [slash] was . . . once used as a precursor to the soft hyphen, to mark end-of-line word division. Solidus is Latin for 'shilling': in Britain, the name was extended to the mark used to separate shillings from pence in pre-decimal currency: 7/6 for seven shillings and sixpence."
    (Tom McArthur, The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press, 1992)

    - "The word ‘slash’ first appeared in medieval times to mean a slicing movement by a knife or weapon (derived from the Old French esclachier). It’s easy to see how this word was then transposed onto the dynamic diagonal slit that is the slash. In medieval manuscripts, slashes were used rampantly in place of today’s comma, but today the slash has limited uses. Its most common function is to substitute the word ‘or’ (Sir/ Madam, Y/N). It is also used to make a strong connect between words or phrases (love/hate), to replace per (km/h) and to indicate the end of a line in a poem or song. In recent years, the slash has become known as the forward slash, to differentiate it from the backslash, which is used only in computing.

    "Typographically speaking, it is worth noting the difference between the solidus and the slash (also known as virgule). The solidus is a mark used to denote fractions and is at a close to
    45-degree angle. The slash is used in punctuation and is more vertical in orientation. However, today there is little differentiation between them and where there is no option of a solidus, a slash is generally acceptable. There are usually no spaces on either side of a slash, unless it’s indicating the end of a line of verse."
    (Adapted from Glyph: A Visual Exploration of Punctuation Marks and Other Typographic Symbols by Adriana Caneva and Shiro Nishimoto [Cicada, 2015]. Liz Stinson, "The Secret History of the Hashtag, Slash, and Interrobang." Wired, October 21, 2015)