While documenting our software we realized nobody here knows how the separator inside a path is called.

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  ^    ^       ^    ^
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Our initial intuition told us, that we could use either "Pfadtrennzeichen" or "Verzeichnistrennzeichen", but thinking and talking about it we came to the conclusion if interpreted rigorously those mean "the character separating whole paths from each other". (e.g. ; in /path/one/;/path/two/)

Looking into the Wikipedia page about paths, the authors sidestepped this problem elegantly by not mentioning the differences between Linux and Windows paths. Looking into this Wikipedia page about slashes the used term is "Trennzeichen" but without specifying what exactly is separated, since the context is given by the article.

To be honest I'm not convinced the English term "path separator" we are using in our english documentations is 100% correct either, since there seems to be some confusion about it too: Question about Java pathSeparator vs separator but that is a question for another time.

  • I would just call it "Trenner", "Pfadtrenner" or something to that effect, but I'm not sure how established this is. Jan 26, 2023 at 10:07
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    I'm a native German speaker and I don't know what to call the backslash in German. In almost any context where I would need it, I would expect to speak with other technical people and use "backslash", even in German. Jan 26, 2023 at 20:37
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    The words for the representations / and \ of the separator are "Schrägstrich" and "Umgekehrter Schrägstrich" according to the Wikipedia page and my personal experience (also native speaker). Depending on what industry you work in, you will have to use the good old German terms.
    – Baumflaum
    Jan 27, 2023 at 7:01
  • I went through the MSDOS 6.22 manual (thus looking where there should be people in the knowing) and couldn't find any classification term - They simply talk of an "umgekehrter Schrägstrich"
    – tofro
    Jan 27, 2023 at 18:45
  • Although some people do not agree with on this, this seems to be an unsolved problem in the (german) "computing" community and (caution delusions of grandeur incoming) this discussion could become the reference for all future disputes regarding this issue.
    – Baumflaum
    Jan 28, 2023 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


Choose one from:

Separator is not overly convincing, since the -tor suffix is typically used for something performing as task (here: a separation, cf. Reflektor), while the required meaning is only indicating it.

With the definition, that a path consists of several directories followed by a final filename, Verzeichnistrennzeichen wins the prize for maximum precision, but unfortunately also has the maximum number of syllables, discouraging its use.

Update: For the ambiguousness of compound words (i. e. does Pfadtrennzeichen denote a a separator [of unnamed items] within a path, or the separation of paths [within an unnamed item]), see also this question, which I would summarize as: it can't be known from looking at the word, you have to consult a dictionary.

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    I don't agree with your points. About -tor suffix: Analogous to reflector being a passive component reflecting light, a separator is a passive component separating folders inside a path. Also there are separators for furniture being an exact physical representation of a slash. --- About the Link you gave for Verzeichnistrennzeichen: I also looked at the site but decided it is not credible, since big parts of the german version are autotranslated possibly including the relevant term.
    – Baumflaum
    Jan 26, 2023 at 14:27
  • It's just that "Separator" makes me think of "Separatorenfleisch"...
    – Lykanion
    Jan 27, 2023 at 13:25
  • Just to add a view: I'm quite used to "Pfadseparator" and "Pfadtrennzeichen" for this use in German (as well as "path separator") in English. These are compound words that have been in use for quite some time, since the need for a generic word for this is unfortunately at least as old als MS-DOS and CP/M, and I don't think it makes much sense any more to try to reestablish anything from first principles here.
    – HalvarF
    Jan 27, 2023 at 13:58
  • I like to add that Pfadtrennzeichen is not correct though commonly used. A path is a list of directories, and the path separator is either : (Unix) or ; (MS-Windows)
    – Janka
    Jan 27, 2023 at 14:06
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    @Janka: No, path/Pfad is also used for just a full way to a file ("C:\Program Files\MyProgram\MyProgram.exe" is also called the "path to MyProgram.exe").
    – HalvarF
    Jan 27, 2023 at 14:09

The term for / (Unix) and \ (MS-Windows) is Verzeichnistrenner. It's sometimes also called Pfadtrenner but that's incorrect in a strict sense, as that one is : (Unix) and ; (MS-Windows). That Pfadtrenner is used when you need a list of directories that should be considered.

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    "Verzeichnistrenner" is a good suggestion. I disagree with what is said about "Pfad" and "Pfadtrenner" here though. No one uses it that way, and the environment variable PATH should have been called PATHS in the first place because that was what was meant: the list of paths to executables.
    – HalvarF
    Jan 27, 2023 at 14:24
  • See e.g. learn.microsoft.com/de-de/dotnet/api/system.io.path
    – HalvarF
    Jan 27, 2023 at 14:51

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