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See also: Special Numbers and Concepts

Mathematical symbols can be confusing and can act as a real barrier to learning and understanding basic numeracy.

This page complements our numeracy skills pages and provides a quick glossary of common mathematical symbols with quick and concise definitions.

Are we missing something? Get it touch to let us know.

+ Addition

The addition symbol + is usually used to indicate that two or more numbers should be added together, for example, 2 + 2. 

The + symbol can also be used to indicate a positive number although this is less common, for example, +2. As our page on Positive and Negative Numbers explains, a number without a sign is considered to be positive, so the plus is not usually necessary.

See our page on Addition for more.

− Subtraction or Minus

This symbol has two main uses in mathematics:

  1. - is used when one or more numbers are to be subtracted, for example, 2 − 2.
  2. The - symbol is also commonly used to show a minus or negative number, such as −2.
See our page on Subtraction for more.

× or * or . Multiply

These symbols have the same meaning; commonly × is used to mean multiplication when handwritten or used on a calculator 2 × 2, for example.

The symbol * is used in spreadsheets and other computer applications to indicate a multiplication, although * does have other more complex meanings in mathematics.

Less commonly, multiplication may also be symbolised by a dot . or indeed by no symbol at all. For example, if you see a number written outside brackets with no operator (symbol or sign), then it should be multiplied by the contents of the brackets: 2 (3+2) is the same as 2 x (3+2).

See our page on Multiplication for more.

÷ or / Divide

These symbols are both used to mean division in mathematics. ÷ is used commonly in handwritten calculations and on calculators, for example, 2 ÷ 2.

/ is used in spreadsheets and other computer applications.

See our page on Division for more.

= Equals

The = equals symbol is used to show the result of the calculation, 2 + 2 = 4.

You may also come across other related symbols, although these are less common:

  • means not equal. For example 2 + 2 5 - 2. In computer applications (like Excel) the symbols <> mean not equal.
  • means identical to. Similar, but not exactly the same as equals. If in doubt, stick to =.
  • means approximately equal to, or almost equal to. The two sides of a relationship indicated by this symbol will Trask Women's Pump Cradles Walking Dress Black not be accurate enough to manipulate mathematically.

< Less Than and > Greater Than

This symbol < means less than, for example 2 < 4 means that 2 is less than 4.

This symbol > means greater than, for example 4 > 2.

≤ ≥ These symbols mean ‘less than or equal to’ and ‘greater than or equal to’ and are commonly used in algebra. In computer applications <= and >= are used.

≪ ≫ These symbols are less common and mean much less than, or much greater than.

Cradles Dress Women's Pump Trask Walking Black ± Plus or Minus

This symbol ± means ‘plus or minus’. It is used to indicate, for example, confidence intervals around a number.

The answer is said to be ‘plus or minus’ another number, or in other words, within a range around the given answer.

For example, 5 ± 2 could in practice be any number from 3 to 7.

∑ Sum

The ∑ symbol means sum.

∑ is the Greek capital sigma symbol. Used commonly in algebraic functions, you may also notice it in Excel - the AutoSum button has a sigma as its icon.

° Degree

Degrees ° are used in several different ways.

  • As a measure of rotation - the angle between the sides of a shape or the rotation of a circle. A circle is 360° and a right angle is 90°. See our section on Black Women's Navy Jane Travelactiv Propet Mary Heather Oxford wXd77qg for more.
  • A measure of temperature. Degrees Celsius or Centigrade are used in most of the world (with the exception of the USA). Water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C. In the USA Fahrenheit is used on the Fahrenheit scale water freezes at 32°F and boils at 212°F. See our page: Systems of Measurement for more information.

∠ Angle

The angle symbol ∠ is used as shorthand in geometry (the study of shapes) for describing an angle.

The expression ∠ABC is used to describe the angle at point B (between points A and C). Similarly, ∠BAC would be used to describe the angle of point A (between points B and C). For more on angles and other geometric terms see our pages on Black Women's Navy Jane Travelactiv Propet Mary Heather Oxford wXd77qg.

Black Cradles Trask Dress Women's Pump Walking √ Square Root

√ is the symbol for square root. A square root is the number that, when multiplied by itself, gives the original number.

For example, the square root of 4 is 2, because 2 x 2 = 4. The square root of 9 is 3, because 3 x 3 = 9.

See our page: Special Numbers and Concepts for more on square roots.

2 Power

This symbol is used for the power of a number, 32, for example, means 3 to the power of 2 or 3 squared (3 x 3).

The superscripted number is the power so 43 means 4 to the power of 3 or 4 cubed, that is 4 × 4 × 4.

See our pages on Calculating Area and Calculating Volume for examples of when squared and cubed numbers are used

. Decimal Point

. is the decimal point symbol, often referred to as simply ‘point’.

, Thousand's Separator

A comma can be used to split larger numbers and make them easier to read.

A thousand can be written as 1,000 as well as 1000 and a million as 1,000,000 or 1000000. The comma splits larger numbers into blocks of three digits.

In most English speaking countries the , does not have any mathematical function, it is simply used to make numbers easier to read.

In some other countries, especially in Europe, the comma may be used instead of a decimal point.

( ) Brackets

Brackets ( ) are used to determine the order of a calculation as dictated by the BODMAS rule.

Parts of a calculation included within brackets are calculated first, for example

  • 5 + 3 × 2 = 11
  • (5 + 3) × 2 = 16

% Percentage

The % symbol means percentage, or the number out of 100.

Learn all about percentages on our page: Introduction to Percentages

∞ Infinity

Black Cradles Walking Pump Dress Trask Women's The ∞ symbol signifies infinity, the concept that numbers go on for ever.

However large a number you have, you can always have a larger one, because you can always add one to it.

Infinity is not a number, but the idea of numbers going on for ever. You cannot add one to infinity, any more than you can add one to a person, or to love or hate.

x-bar Mean

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x-bar is the mean of all the possible values of x.

You will mostly come across this symbol in statistics.

See our page on Averages for more information.

! Factorial

! is the symbol for factorial.

n! is the product of all the numbers from n down to 1, inclusive, i.e. n x (n−1) x (n−2) x … x 2 x 1.

∝ Proportional

∝ means ‘is proportional to’, and is used to show something that varies in relation to something else. For example, if x = 2y, then x ∝ y.

∴ Therefore

∴ is a useful shorthand form of ‘therefore’, used throughout maths and science.

∵ Because

∵ is a useful shorthand form of ‘because’, not to be confused with ‘therefore’.

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