In written English, I always have used them interchangeably, but I guess there must be a difference in use for both.

What are the differences between those 2 characters? When to use one or another?

  • 17
    It is not normal to use the character '=' at all unless you are writing about mathematical or scientific equations. What is your context?
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 2, 2020 at 21:30
  • @ColinFine Don't really have one. Throughout my life as an English student, I have sometimes used them interchangeably. I know the use for the character "=" in maths, but I was wondering if It could also be applied to a list of terms for example... If you want a context, I could tell you essays, articles, reviews...etc. Dec 2, 2020 at 21:37
  • 14
    Examples, please. Aside from technical writing, I would not expect to see '=' anywhere in English prose.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 2, 2020 at 21:41
  • 8
    Probably somebody has written definitions that way. I doubt if you would find a style guide anywhere that accepted it. People will understand it, but it is not the norm
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 2, 2020 at 21:52
  • 1
    I see, and occasionally even use, = in informal prose. It's always a shorthand for "is the same as", "is equivalent to" or something similar.
    – Chris H
    Dec 3, 2020 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


The symbol "=" is an "equals sign" and is normally a substitute for the word "equals". It is almost always used in writing mathematical equations or in writing about mathematics. It is sometimes, in informal writing, used is a sort of metaphorical way. For example someone might write "killing = murder" to indicate that they are the same thing. It pretty much always indicates that two expressions have the same meaning of value.

I have also seen "=" used on a political protest sign used as a shorthand for "equality" in the political sense. This is also a very informal use.

The symbol ":" is the colon. It has several uses in written English. It can introduce a list, it can separate an introductory clause from a clause that is a complete sentence, it can separate a premise from a conclusion (now a rare usage), it is used to separate hours from minutes in an expression of time. None of these uses involve equating one thing with another. I cannot think of any situation in which a colon and an equals sign can be used interchangeably.

  • Hey. I just added a couple of words in the first sentence, because many people are more familiar with this term of "equal to". I hope you don't mind me changing that. If you think it is wrong, I guess you can rollback the edit. Dec 3, 2020 at 9:12
  • 7
    @Dhanishtha Ghosh To the best of my knowledge this (=) is always called the "equals sign":and never the "equal to sign" Dec 3, 2020 at 9:15
  • 1
    How about "1:1 meeting"? Dec 3, 2020 at 10:43
  • 1
    @GrzegorzOledzki I have never seen "one-on-one" meeting abbreviated "1=1 meeting.
    – Polygnome
    Dec 3, 2020 at 12:48
  • 8
    @GrzegorzOledzki The colon can also be used as an abbreviation of the word "to" in certain contexts, usually involving ratios (e.g. "5:1 mixture of flour and sugar"). In the case of the meeting, it's referring to the ratio of the workers and managers present at the meeting (one of each).
    – nick012000
    Dec 3, 2020 at 13:00

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