The Virgule, aka the Forward Slash

Reader Thomas Gould asked me about use in drafting of the virgule, also known as the forward slash.

Here’s what Garner’s Modern American Usage has to say:

Some writers use [the virgule] to mean “per” (50 words/minute). Others use it to mean “or” (and/or) or “and” (every employee/independent contractor must complete form XJ42A). Still others use it to indicate a vague disjunction, in which it’s not quite an or (the novel/novella distinction). In this last use, the en-dash is usually a better choice. In all these uses, there’s almost always a better choice than the virgule. Use it as a last resort.

So the virgule is profoundly unclear. To that I’d add that if you want a given virgule to mean and or or, you’d have to take into account the rat’s nest that is the ambiguity associated with and and or.

So I say never use a virgule in drafting except on those rare occasions when and/or is the least-bad option (that’s something I discuss in MSCD 8.55) or if you need to state a fraction or an informal date (as in 3/17/08).

For what it’s worth, I haven’t found any litigation relating to use of the virgule in contracts. Most opinions addressing the meaning of the virgule deal with who was entitled to cash checks made payable to “[payee 1]/[payee 2].”

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.