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Slashes: Uses and Restrictions

Slashes: Uses and Restrictions


Misunderstood. Abused. Ignored.

No, not me. Well, maybe that, too, but I’m referring to the beleaguered slash, which you may know as a diagonal, virgule, solidus, slant, stroke, oblique stroke, separatrix, shilling mark, or forward slash (that low-self-esteem retronym which seeks to distinguish the slash [/] from the backslash [\]).

With this many names and almost as many roles—like providing alternatives, adding, abbreviating, separating, joining—the slash is like the understudy who also prints the flyers and strikes the set with the stagehands. Even so, The Associated Press Stylebook chose to exclude the slash from the “Punctuation” section, acknowledging it with a thirty-word chin nod in the main section instead. (It could be worse: The en dash was completely forsaken.)

[In AP style,] slashes are acceptable only in certain phrases and “special situations,” such as with fractions.

It may surprise you to learn that the most common usage of the slash, as a signifier of alternatives/options/choices, has been barred in AP style; slashes are acceptable only in certain phrases and “special situations,” such as with fractions. A heavy user of slashes and other intoxicating punctuation such as semicolons, I do admit to relying upon them to organize the contents of my brain when I’m in a hurry. And why not? They’re free, and I can use the time I’m saving for more important tasks, like chewing properly.

Slashes: Differences Between AP and Chicago Style

AP: We never said that slashes are tacky or that using them is lazy, but we’re cool with those inferences. Here are the acceptable uses.

  • With fractions
  • Between lines of quoted poetry
  • In Internet addresses (URLs) and pathnames
  • In descriptive phrases such as 24/7 or 9/11
  • In the signoff (credit) in photo captions

AP doesn’t explain this, but in the stylebook, the slash is also used in abbreviations such as TCP/IP and NAA/IPTC.

In the 14th edition (1993) of The Chicago Manual of Style, the slash was listed under “solidus” and was summed up in one paragraph. Cute, right? It didn’t make the first edition, in 1906, but that was a two-hundred-page baby compared to today’s thousand-page sumo wrestler.

Chicago: We love our versatile little friend. Here are some of its uses.

  • With fractions
  • Between lines of quoted poetry
  • In Internet addresses (URLs) and pathnames
  • To signify or or and/or
  • With two-year spans, e.g., 1991/92 (instead of an en dash)
  • With dates (informal), e.g., 6/1/11
  • In abbreviations, e.g., $7/hour (instead of per) and c/o (instead of a period)

So that’s the nitty-gritty of slashes and style.

When in doubt, ditch the spaces and you’ll be right most of the time.

Now, let’s talk about how to render a slash in certain contexts to improve readability, which is, after all, the heart of copyediting. (Or the lungs. Some vital organ.) Non-editors tend to either compulsively add spaces around all slashes or close them all up. When in doubt, ditch the spaces and you’ll be right most of the time; however, Chicago has an option for handling open compounds (two or more words separated by a space, e.g., copy editor) that offers more flexibility and clarity—totally worth memorizing. More on that coming up.

General Rule for Using Spaces With Slashes

In most cases, there are no spaces on either side of the slash. This is especially true for unique (read: inflexible) constructions such as directory paths and filenames, where our use of the slash is driven by requirement, not style.

Brief rant: There’s a rogue slash style making the rounds, usually on résumés, for some reason: no space before the slash but one after. I’m not impressed by this. It’s a red flag that points to poor decision-making more than anything else; even if executed consistently, it isn’t a style which showcases a copy editor’s skills. Rather, it may expose them as a street editor (as in any schmoe off the street). Not that I don’t appreciate this heads-up.

Exception: Quoted Poetry

AP: To show line breaks when quoting poetry in running text, use a slash between the lines, with a space before and after the slashes.

Chicago: Ditto. And when quoting more than one stanza in running text, insert two slashes [//] between the stanzas.

Although Chicago discusses this explicitly, AP actually doesn’t say anything about putting spaces around slashes for quoting poetry—only that slashes can be used to denote “the ends of a line in quoted poetry.” Good enough for me!

Exception: Open Compounds

Chicago: If one or both of the terms separated by the slash consist of two or more words, a space before and after the slash may aid comprehension.

This option really appeals to me, because it helps to visually group an open compound, making it clear that words beyond the ones immediately surrounding the slash are part of the thoughts being weighed.

The 15th edition had prescribed a thin space before and after; in the 16th edition, we’ve graduated to a full space, certainly a more realistic option for writers, editors, and typesetters. (Spacing slashes was not even addressed in the 14th edition.) I applaud this move towards simplicity and am looking forward to a thinner edition in CMOS’ next incarnation. Well, I can dream, at least.

I applaud this move towards simplicity and am looking forward to a thinner edition in CMOS’ next incarnation.


  • AP, 2011: “slash” and “Internet”; “Photo Captions” section
  • CMOS, 16th edition: slashes, 6.103-110; periods with abbreviations, 10.4; running in more than one stanza of poetry, 13.32
State Abbreviations: Use Traditional or Go Postal?

State Abbreviations: Use Traditional or Go Postal?


In this quick guide to state abbreviations, I will cover the differences between AP style and Chicago style and—just to prolong your state of confusion—when to use the common two-letter abbreviations created by the United States Postal Service.

If you’re writing a research paper or dashing off a blog post, you can probably ignore all the exceptions and special cases and just lean on these basic guidelines:

  • In running text, AP and Chicago both spell out state names.
  • For mailing addresses, AP and Chicago both default to the two-letter postal abbreviations.
  • For all other abbreviations, AP uses its own state abbreviations and Chicago prefers postal abbreviations (but has its own state abbreviations should that style be more appropriate for your publication).

If you’re writing a research paper or dashing off a blog post, you can probably ignore all the exceptions and special cases.

Did that little appetizer leave you wanting more? If so, I love you. And please read on for an expanded version of the brain-twisting details.

AP (online, fee required)

  • Spell out state names in running text.
  • Abbreviate state names when used in (1) datelines on stories (e.g., KOSHKONONG, Mo.), (2) photo captions, (3) lists, (4) tables, and (5) short-form listings of party affiliation (e.g., D-Calif.). Refer to AP’s “datelines” entry for use of certain well-known city names alone.
  • Use two-letter postal abbreviations only in mailing addresses which include a zip code: “To complain about AP style, write to The Associated Press, 450 W. 33rd St., New York, NY 10001.”
  • For headlines, the new rule says to avoid abbreviating states whenever possible, and the old rule—in case you can’t avoid abbreviating—said to lose the periods when using abbreviations which consist of two capital letters: NY but Ky.

Chicago (10.28)

  • Spell out state names when they stand alone in running text: “I don’t see why Kansas and Arkansas can’t make their names rhyme.”
  • Spell out state names when used with the name of a city (except for DC): “I was born in New York, New York—please stop singing.”
  • Two-letter postal abbreviations are preferred over traditional abbreviations when state names are used in bibliographies, tables, lists, blah cetera.

U.S. Postal Service

Following are the differences between AP and Chicago style in how state names are rendered in their respective “traditional” abbreviations. (Surprise! Abbreviations are not always used.)

Surprise! Abbreviations are not always used.

Aside #1: If your quality expectations are sufficiently lax, as are mine, you might enjoy Wikipedia’s version of how state abbreviations evolved and come up with your own explanation for why there are different notions of what’s traditional. Don’t bother consulting the stylebooks’ official dictionaries for the proper abbreviations: Those are more descriptive than prescriptive, and having more options will only confuse you.

Aside #2: The two-letter U.S. Postal Service code is listed parenthetically after the complete state name, but you probably figured that out.

Aside #3: Note that none of the two-word abbreviations have a space after the first period, e.g., N.Mex. and R.I.

Alabama (AL)

  • Both: Ala.

Alaska (AK)

  • AP: Alaska
  • Chicago: Alaska or Alas.

Arizona (AZ)

  • Both: Ariz.

Arkansas (AR)

  • Both: Ark.

California (CA)

  • Both: Calif.

Colorado (CO)

  • Both: Colo.

Connecticut (CT)

  • Both: Conn.

Delaware (DE)

  • Both: Del.

District of Columbia (DC)

  • AP: District of Columbia
  • Chicago: D.C.

Florida (FL)

  • Both: Fla.

Georgia (GA)

  • Both: Ga.

Hawaii (HI)

  • Both: Hawaii

Idaho (ID)

  • Both: Idaho

Illinois (IL)

  • Both: Ill.

Indiana (IN)

  • Both: Ind.

Iowa (IA)

  • Both: Iowa

Kansas (KS)

  • AP: Kan.
  • Chicago: Kans.

Kentucky (KY)

  • Both: Ky.

Louisiana (LA)

  • Both: La.

Maine (ME)

  • Both: Maine

Maryland (MD)

  • Both: Md.

Massachusetts (MA)

  • Both: Mass.

Michigan (MI)

  • Both: Mich.

Minnesota (MN)

  • Both: Minn.

Mississippi (MS)

  • Both: Miss.

Missouri (MO)

  • Both: Mo.

Montana (MT)

  • Both: Mont.

Nebraska (NE)

  • AP: Neb.
  • Chicago: Neb. or Nebr.

Nevada (NV)

  • Both: Nev.

New Hampshire (NH)

  • Both: N.H.

New Jersey (NJ)

  • Both: N.J.

New Mexico (NM)

  • AP: N.M.
  • Chicago: N.Mex.

New York (NY)

  • Both: N.Y.

North Carolina (NC)

  • Both: N.C.

North Dakota (ND)

  • AP: N.D.
  • Chicago: N.Dak.

Ohio (OH)

  • Both: Ohio

Oklahoma (OK)

  • Both: Okla.

Oregon (OR)

  • AP: Ore.
  • Chicago: Ore. or Oreg.

Pennsylvania (PA)

  • Both: Pa.

Rhode Island (RI)

  • Both: R.I.

South Carolina (SC)

  • Both: S.C.

South Dakota (SD)

  • AP: S.D.
  • Chicago: S.Dak.

Tennessee (TN)

  • Both: Tenn.

Texas (TX)

  • AP: Texas
  • Chicago: Tex.

Utah (UT)

  • Both: Utah

Vermont (VT)

  • Both: Vt.

Virginia (VA)

  • Both: Va.

Washington (WA)

  • Both: Wash.

West Virginia (WV)

  • Both: W.Va.

Wisconsin (WI)

  • AP: Wis.
  • Chicago: Wis. or Wisc.

Wyoming (WY)

  • Both: Wyo.

Chicago also lists other U.S. territories, only two of which have traditional abbreviations (Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands). None of these are abbreviated in AP style, except in mailing addresses.

  • American Samoa (AS)
  • Federated States of Micronesia (FM)
  • Guam (GU)*
  • Marshall Islands (MH)*
  • Northern Mariana Islands (MP)
  • Palau (PW)
  • Puerto Rico (PR)*: P.R. or Puerto Rico
  • Virgin Islands (VI)*: V.I. or Virgin Islands

*Check entry in the Associated Press stylebook for more details.

You can bookmark this page and forget everything you just read.

Final tip: It might help to know that AP’s standard abbreviations are shorter than (or the same as) Chicago’s for all U.S. states except Alaska and Texas. Well, we might as well throw in District of Columbia. And, if feeling generous, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. Or, in favor of keeping your brain less cluttered, you can bookmark this page and forget everything you just read.

Initials: Space or Nah?

Initials: Space or Nah?


You’d think that a post covering initials would be about seven words long, but, as always, Chicago has a lot to say.

Chicago: Periods, space! Except when . . . crap.

  • L. R. R. Hood (10.12)
  • FDR (initials used alone, 8.4)
  • MJ (entire name abbreviated, 10.12)
  • President O. (name abbreviated, 7.62)
  • J.-P. Sartre (hyphenated name, 8.7)
  • H.D. (special case for pen name, 14.73)

AP (p. 142): Periods, no space. I win!

  • L.J. Horner

Chicago separates initials with a space, like you would with a spelled-out name.

Here’s a tip on how to remember this basic distinction (space or no space):

  • Chicago separates initials with a space, like you would with a spelled-out name.
  • Due to the nature of newspapers and web pages, AP runs initials together to prevent them from accidentally breaking across two lines.

For Chicago style, to keep the initials together (with space intact), either manually insert a line break before or after the set of initials—preferably before, to keep the entire name together—or use a nonbreaking space between the letters.

AP runs initials together to prevent them from accidentally breaking across two lines.

At least AP and Chicago are both in agreement about not dividing initials, so let’s end on that high note.

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