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Even though this question is about too basic a thing, I'd like to ask due to the significance it holds in math. And this question might have a duplication issue as in other questions like Why do so many people say "equals to" in maths? similar topics were dealt with.

But as there is no question precisely focusing on the difference between the two when used in math, I have come to ask this.

In math, is '=' read as either 'equals' or 'is equal to' and is there no difference between them at all? Are there no cases in math one can be used and the other can't?

For instance, when you read 3 + 2 = 5, can I read it as either three plus two equals five or three plus two is equal to five, and the same rule applies to an equation where there are variables as in A + 2 = 5, A = 3?

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    To my knowledge both are acceptable in math. Equal is a verb, adjective and noun. “Three plus two equals five” used as a verb “Three plus two is equal to five” used as an adjective 3+2 (Three plus two) is a singular form like “the amount of” vs “a amount of” – Jay Ho Jan 25 at 7:08
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    I would usually read it as "equals", only because it is shorter. They are equivalent. – Peter Jan 25 at 8:23
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As a general rule:

  • we normally say 'equals' when presenting the answer to a mathematical problem or equation.
  • we may say 'is equal to' when presenting a formula to demonstrate equivalence between two sides of the equation.

In mathematics you have a lot of symbols, and those symbols have names. For example, plus (+), minus (-), and of course equals (=).

When stating equations with a true answer, we usually read from left to right and say those symbols by their name. So, for example:

1+1=2 would read as "one plus one equals two".

When you get into more advanced mathematics you learn that not everything presented using these symbols is an equation to be solved. You can present mathematical formulas in the same way; for example, 'the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides'. This is not always the case - and many well-known formulas from mathematics and science may be presented using "equals" (for example, Einstein's mass energy equivalence formula E=mc2).

You will also see >= and <=, which are commonly used in programming, read as "greater than or equal to" and "less than or equal to".

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  • I don't agree that "formulae use "is equal to": F=ma "Force equals mass times acceleration". Perhaps if you were making it very wordy "The acceleration of a particle is equal to the force applied to that particle divided by its mass" – James K Jan 25 at 20:32
  • @JamesK Well, your example is from physics, mine is from mathematics. And I did say these were 'general rules'. Truthfully, I can think of a few mathematical formulas that are commonly read as "equals", but I can't think of any situation where you would solve a mathematical problem and say "equal to" before presenting the answer. – Astralbee Jan 25 at 21:46
  • I don't think there's really such a distinction. It's true we generally say, "the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum ...", but if someone said, "the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum ...", I can't imagine that even the most pedantic math teacher would say, "No no, it's not 'equals', it's 'is equal to'." – Jay Jan 25 at 21:57
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    @jay I agree, and if you read my answer I've adjusted in line with my last comment to show that it doesn't necessarily matter in formula but is always 'equals' before the answer to a problem. – Astralbee Jan 26 at 9:02
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    @Astralbee I really appreciate your answer, which articulates important details and related contexts so that I can better feel what those words connote. – Smart Humanism Jan 29 at 18:51

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