Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I just noticed that the Unicode character set contains an entire block (256 characters) of math symbols. I also noticed that some of them, don't seem very useful. For example:

  • U+22DA (⋚) and U+22DB (⋛): less-than-equal-to-or-greater-than, and greater-than-equal-to-or-less-than. Why not just use the good old equals sign = ?
  • U+2295 through U+2298 (⊕⊖⊗⊘): circled + - × ⁄ symbols; do these mean something?
  • U+2235 (∿): sine wave; why do we need a character for this? does anyone use this?
  • U+2268 (≨): less-than-but-not-equal-to; isn't this redundant? if x < y then isn't it always true the x ≠ y?

If I'm wrong here, please feel free to correct me, but there are lots of these that I don't see a use (or at least a common use) for.

I got these from here (you can click "more").


share|improve this question
$\oplus$ is a special symbol, indicating "direct sum"; it is different from $+$. $\otimes$ is the tensor product, different from $\times$. Both are extremely common. The "sine wave" is not a sine wave, it's a symbol used to denote weak equivalence (often used for equivalence relations, or for stating that two functions are of the same order $\sim$. –  Arturo Magidin Sep 11 '11 at 19:55
The symbol $\lt$ is used for more than simple order symbols. For example, it is used to denote substructures (subspaces, subgroups). In those cases, you need a symbol that specifies that they are proper substructures, i.e., not equal to the original substructures. Again, the symbol is used quite a lot. I don't see your first two used much, but that doesn't mean they aren't, just like the fact that you don't see the others used somehow imply they are "useless". –  Arturo Magidin Sep 11 '11 at 19:57
Maybe you could use the first for something like: if $x ⋚ y$ then $-x ⋛ -y$ (similar to $\pm$ and $\mp$) –  TMM Sep 11 '11 at 20:01
"Some math symbols seem useless"... Yes, of course, most of them are when left unexplained and without context. –  t.b. Sep 12 '11 at 4:04
One book I have on group theory mentions an alternative name for ⊕ (and the like) — "hot cross plus", etc. This is highly appropriate, since the lot of them can then be referred to as bunnery operators. Badoom tish. –  detly Sep 12 '11 at 5:05

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Your "sine wave symbol" looks to me very similar to $\sim$. Certainly that is used: $$ X\sim N(\mu,\sigma^2) $$ $X$ is a normally distributed random variable with expectation $\mu$ and variance $\sigma^2$. $$ X\sim \operatorname{Bin}(n,p) $$ $X$ is a binomially distributed random variable with parameters $n\in\mathbb{N}$ and $p\in[0,1]$.

$$ f(x) \sim \sum_{n=-\infty}^\infty c_n e^{inx} $$ The Fourier series of $f(x)$ is that series. There is no commitment to saying the series converges to $f(x)$ (in some cases it does; in others it doesn't, and it can depend on which kind of convergence is being considered).

$$ a \sim b $$ $a$ is related to $b$ (just which sort of "relation" is referred to depends on the context).

share|improve this answer
Thank you for your answer! –  WChargin Sep 13 '11 at 4:07

$\oplus$ and $\otimes$ are used to denote direct sum and tensor product, which are ubiquitous in mathematics. They also have a pedagogical use as symbols for addition in an abstract abelian group resp. multiplication in an abstract group when you want to make the point that groups are much more general than addition and multiplication of real or complex numbers. $\ominus$ is occasionally used in this abstract way as well.

share|improve this answer
Thank you very much! –  WChargin Sep 13 '11 at 4:08

If $A \subset B$ are linear subspaces of a Hilbert space, $B \ominus A = \{x \in B: (x,y) = 0 \text{ for all }y \in A\}$. $\ominus$ is also used for the symmetric difference of sets.

share|improve this answer
Okay, thank you! –  WChargin Sep 13 '11 at 4:08

The sine wave symbol can be used when typesetting circuit diagrams to indicate that it's an AC circuit.

$\lneqq$ exists (at least if for no other reason) for completion's sake and/or symmetry with $\subsetneqq$ and friends.

share|improve this answer
That's interesting; thanks! –  WChargin Sep 13 '11 at 4:04

$⋚$ and $⋛$ seem appropriate for use with partial orderings; i.e. $a⋚b$ would mean that $a$ and $b$ are comparable ($a⊥b$ is another convention for symbolising comparability).

share|improve this answer

$\otimes$ is also used to denote the Kronecker product of two matrices.

Sometimes, in analyses of floating-point arithmetic (like this one), $\oplus,\ominus,\otimes,$ and $\oslash$ are used instead of $+,-,\times,$ and $/$ to indicate the inexact arithmetic (i.e. with rounding) is being performed on numbers, instead of the ideal operations.

$\sim$ is also used in the representation of asymptotic expressions, e.g. Stirling's formula here. In there, it means that even though the series given is in fact divergent, truncations of it become a better approximation of the gamma (factorial) function as the argument becomes large.

share|improve this answer
That's smart to have a symbol for inexact arithmetic. Thanks for your answer! –  WChargin Sep 13 '11 at 4:06

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.