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Greater/Less Than Signs

Date: 04/09/97 at 15:12:41
From: Anonymous
Subject: Greater/Less Than Signs

I always get my greater and less than signs mixed up. Which is which?

Thank you. 

Date: 04/09/97 at 16:46:20
From: Doctor Ethan
Subject: Re: Greater/Less Than Signs


Sure, I would be happy to help you.

The short answer is

< is less than because it is used when the sentence would look like

____ is less than _____.

> is the greater than symbol because it is used when the sentence would be

_____ is greater than _____.

There are two tricks needed.

First you have to remember what the symbols mean; then you have to 
apply the right labels. Let me explain what I mean.

The two symbols < and > have meaning because they indicate relative 
size, the standard being that the "open side is toward the larger 

3 < 4
4 > 3

If you can remember that, then all you have to figure out is which 
label goes with which one. Try to turn it into a sentence. Because the 
open end is toward the four, the four is larger, so would the sentence 

3 is greater than 4
3 is less than 4 ?

The first one is false, so the symbol that has the point to the left 
and the opening to the right is the less than symbol.

I hope this explanation makes sense.

-Doctor Ethan,  The Math Forum
 Check out our web site!   

Date: 04/19/97 at 16:46:20
From: Doctor Chuck
Subject: Re: Greater/Less Than Signs

Hi! I have a trick that I use to remember which of "<" or ">" means 
"is less than" or "is greater than".

	Think of the signs "<" and ">" as being alligator mouths. For 
example, look at this poorly-drawn alligator:

    > ==========================
   /    /\       /\

This alligator wants to eat numbers, and since it's really hungry it 
will always eat the bigger number. So the ">" sign is always open 
toward the bigger number.

For example, consider:

    10    which sign?     5

Well, 10 is greater than 5, so the alligator will want to "eat" the 
10, and its mouth will be open toward the 10.

           10 > 5

I hope this trick is useful...

-Doctor Chuck,  The Math Forum
 Check out our web site!   
Associated Topics:
Middle School Definitions
Middle School Terms/Units of Measurement

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