Basic math symbols and their meaning for kids
To all articles
Basic math symbols and their meaning for kids

Basic math symbols and their meaning for kids

Math symbols surround us every day, but basically, they are used in mathematics to refer to a particular object or action. Also, they help us to save space while solving mathematical problems. In other words, we can call math symbols the unique mathematical language which enables us to replace some sophisticated verbal constructions with commonly used pictograms.

Let’s discover what mathematical symbols we can use!

= Equals

If we see two parallel lines between two numbers or expressions, it means that one component equals another. We can use this symbol to show the same value of the sides or demonstrate the result of some calculations. For example, “two plus two equals four” we can write as “2+2=4“; or with expressions: 2+2=3+1.

But what if two sides are not equal? Can we show it with a maths symbol, as well? Sure we do! Firstly, to show that two parts are approximately equal, we use two wavy lines (). But be careful: ьathematics is a very precise science, so we should avoid using inaccurate expressions. Just keep in mind that in some cases, it is acceptable.

Sometimes two parts are strictly unequal. For this purpose, we use crossed parallel lines (). For instance, when we state that some expression is not correct: 2+2≠5. This symbol, like the previous one, is not widely used, although sometimes you can come across it.

< Less Than and > Greater Than

If we want to be more precise in terms of inequality, we use Less Than (<) or Greater than (>) symbols. We should rotate the letter “v” by 90 degrees to the left or to the right to write them. The question is, what side to choose? It is pretty simple — the large opening points to the bigger value, the small tip closes next to the lower value. These symbols help us to make comparisons between numbers or expressions. Let’s look at the examples to make it clearer: to state that “five is greater than three”, we write 5>3; to state that “one is less than six”, we write 1<6. The same is relevant for expressions: 5+1>2+2.

When learning algebra, you can come across the symbols like “less than or equal to” and “greater than or equal to”. They look the same as the previous ones but with the additional line underneath ( or ). They refer to the various solutions of the equations, for example.

+ Addition

The addition symbol is used in mathematical expressions where we have to add one number to another. If we want to add two numbers together, we say “three plus four” and write 3+4. These two crossed lines, plus, can also be used while speaking of positive (+2) or negative numbers (however, plus is not always necessary there).

− Subtraction

The subtraction symbol — a short horizontal line — stands for the expressions where we subtract one number from another. For instance, a non-verbal equivalent for “five minus two” is 5-2. Another case where we use a subtraction symbol is negative numbers (-2), as we have already mentioned.

± Plus or Minus

There are expressions where two symbols can go together. In this case, we deal with an interval around one particular number. Sometimes we do not need to find the only number that will be a solution, but the requirement is to identify the range of numbers. For example, 4±1 refers to 3 and 5 at the same time.

* or × or ⋅ Multiplication

All signs that express multiplication of numbers are equal. The only difference between them is the “location” of use.

* — this symbol is commonly used while typing expressions on a computer;

× — this one stands for handwritten multiplication (sometimes it can also be used in calculators);

— dot is also a symbol to write in hand.

From time to time, you can meet such expressions: 2(1+3). There is no written symbol between a number and brackets. However, this is also a multiplication.

÷ or / Division

The mathematical division is shown by two equal symbols. The first one (÷) is usually handwritten or depicted on calculators, while the second symbol (/) is common for computer applications. As we type this text on the computer, we can give you an example of division with a slash: 8/2.

All these symbols are used in mathematical calculations or expressions, especially in simple ones. They are the basic symbols in algebra. Let’s take a look at more sophisticated signs.

( ) Parentheses

We use parentheses when we want to show that one calculation goes before another. For instance, in the expression 7*(1+3), firstly, we add 1 to 3, and then we multiply the result by 7. Another function of these symbols is to show the interval as a solution to a complicated equation. Do not forget that parentheses always go in “couple” — one opening part and one closing.

[ ] Brackets

Brackets also always go together. These symbols look similar to the previous ones but have a significant difference — angles. Brackets are used to mark intervals. Sometimes they can be mixed with parentheses: one side is “round” and another one has angles — in this case, the characteristics of the interval will change. The examples are pretty difficult to understand yet. Still, to introduce you to these symbols, we give you this one — [2, 10], [3, 12).

— Fraction

Fraction is also a variation of division, however, when the result is not an integer number. We use one horizontal line to write down a fraction and write one number above it (divisible) and one number — under (divisor). Keep in mind that sometimes integer numbers can go together with a fraction. When typing, we use slash instead of the line, for example, ½ and .

. Period

This symbol is also called “decimal point” or simply “point”. It is also used in fractions, but only decimal ones. To distinguish the whole number from the fractional part, we put a point between them. You can come across numbers that are less than 1 (for instance, 0.5) or bigger (1.6, 7.35).

% Percentage

A slash with two small circles on the sides is a symbol of percentage. Once again, we have a deal with fractions here; however, in this case, percentage shows the part out of a hundred. For example, 50% is the same thing as ½ or 0.5. When we see a 50% discount in shops, that means that the price is divided in half.

, Thousands Separator

When we deal with large numbers, it might be hard to read them quickly. A comma is used to make it easier. We split a big number into blocks of three digits and get 10,000 instead of 10000. Sometimes a comma is just a symbol that prevents you from mistakes while reading numbers; in some other cases, it can have the same mathematical functions like a period in decimal fractions.

∞ Infinity

Rotated by 90 degrees symbol of 8 is a sign of infinity. This symbol states that the range of numbers is endless. It is practically impossible to name the biggest number ever as we can always come up with a bigger one, just adding 1 to it. Infinity does not have a numerical expression as, in fact, it is not a number at all. It is a concept, an idea, according to which the numbers go on forever. Although we cannot carry out any mathematical actions with infinity, it can sometimes be a solution to an equation.

∑ Sum

The symbol of the sum came from the Greek language. It looks a lot like a rotated letter M. The symbol of the sum is used when we want to show the result of the addition. It is usually seen in sophisticated algebraic equations and functions, which look like this: ∑ a2i. Sometimes we can come across it in computer applications, such as Excel.

∴ Therefore

This symbol is not used to express any mathematical action. However, mathematicians and some other scientists use it while solving problems to save space. It is easier to put three dots instead of writing the whole world over and over again. We can come across it in equations, for example:

x + 2 = 9

∴ x = 7

Sometimes this symbol is omitted, and we simply write a solution without foregoing signs.

∵ Because

This is also a shorthand form of a linking word that is not comfortable to write using letters while solving a mathematical problem. Like in the previous symbol, we use three dots to write it — the difference is in their location. “Because” symbol has two dots on the top and one under them, while “Therefore” symbol is vice-versa. We can also call it the “Since” symbol as these words are synonyms.


All in all, there are loads of different mathematical symbols. Some of them we see every day. The others are for professional scientists. Anyway, the better you master the basic mathematical signs, the more freely you will operate them while solving problems. Just remember that it is a great idea to learn them by heart as it will help you a lot.

Math & logic courses for kids
Times more complex than school, extremely fun, interactive and rewarding to keep 7-13 years old kids engaged. We're gonna make them love math!
learn more
Subscribe to EdCraft!
Leave an e-mail so you don't miss
new engaging articles
enter email