Do you remember learning in school about the little sideways signs that look like little arrowheads:
A lot of us know that these signs mean “greater than” and “less than”, but can’t seem to remember which sign is which.
But first, what do these signs mean?
These signs are used when math problems don’t have a clear answer, which are also called inequalities. Inequalities compare two things, showing the relationship between them. The word “inequality” means that two things are not equal.
The two signs < and > are signs that are used when you’re comparing two things in math. With math, you usually have to solve the problem, but when using the greater than and less than signs, you’re showing if a number is greater than or less than another number rather than actually solving a problem.
Which sign is which?
The > symbol means “greater than”. It shows that one number or value is larger than another number. For example: 5 > 2
If you see the symbol < it means that one number is smaller than the other number. For exam: 2 < 6
The symbols look similar and can easily be confused by which symbol is which.
An easy way to remember which symbol is which is to remember that the open end of the symbol is always facing the bigger number and the arrow points to the small number.
The Alligator Method
Another way to remember the greater than and less than signs is something that you may remember from grade school: the Alligator Method.
Imagine the symbols as an alligator mouth with the numbers on each side being little fish. The alligator will always want to eat a larger number of fish. Whichever number is larger, the alligator mouth is opened towards that number.
If you were given 5 and 8 and were told to show which number is greater than or less than, the alligator would open his mouth towards the 8. This shows that 5 is less than 8.
The same would work if you were given 10 and 4. The alligator mouth would open towards the 10, showing that the 10 is greater than 4.
“Less than” sign starts with the letter L. The “less than” sign also looks like an L and the greater than sign > does not. So because the greater than sign does not look like an L, it can never be “less than”.
Need more math help?
Our online math college readiness course offers self-paced lessons, easy-to-follow videos, and diverse practice problems to teach you essential math skills.
Click here to find out more about how our math course can help you.