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Three IS Greater Than Two?

Date: 10/21/2002 at 20:38:13
From: Karen Morrison
Subject: Greater than less than

My daughter is in 7th grade and got a few answers wrong on a test.  
This was the question, "Write the words for the symbols."  

> (with a line underneath)          greater than or equal to

Her answer was marked incorrect because she did not include the 
word "is" greater than or equal to. Every answer was marked incorrect 
because she didn't use "is." I am trying to find out if this is 

Date: 10/21/2002 at 22:57:25
From: Doctor Peterson
Subject: Re: Greater than less than

Hi, Karen.

On one hand, this seems pretty picky. You'll certainly see plenty of 
lists that briefly define these symbols as "greater than or equal to" 
and similar phrases, without the "is"; that's all you need to show 
that you understand the meaning of the symbol.

But if the teacher had previously made it clear that only the full 
version, including "is," would be accepted on a test, then it is 
reasonable to mark anything else wrong. Technically,  >=  (as we 
write it in text) is not a conjunction or a preposition, but a verb, 
and the "is" is essential in how we use it. For example,

    3 > 2

means the sentence "3 IS GREATER THAN 2," not just the phrase "3 
GREATER THAN 2." And for many kids, that makes a huge difference. If 
you were translating a sentence into algebraic terms, the latter 
phrase would be "2 + 3" (that is, 3 more than 2). So I can support a 
teacher emphasizing the precise meaning of the symbols, and asking 
students to give only that as an answer. I would only object if no 
mention had been made of this, and the students had reason to think 
they only had to say enough to show that they knew the general 
meaning of the symbols.

If you have any further questions, feel free to write back.

- Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum 
Associated Topics:
Elementary Definitions

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