What is the difference between symbol and sign?

In the following text which one is correct?

dollar symbol or dollar sign

  • 1
    Hi @Premraj, have a look at my answer to a very similar question at ELU.
    – Lawrence
    Sep 21, 2016 at 6:29

5 Answers 5


The difference between a symbol and a sign is that a symbol can convey a deeper and more complex meaning than a sign. A sign is an indicator or marker for something very specific, very concrete and, in general, unambiguous in meaning.

Road markers are called signs because they usually convey something very specific - the speed limit, "Stop", a street name, etc. There is nothing open to interpretation with these markers (except in the minds of some lawyers, perhaps :-) ).

On the other hand a symbol, whether a cross, a dove, a ring, etc. can have a complex meaning and nuance that differs from one person to another depending on their experience, culture, upbringing, schooling, and so on. A symbol conveys a message of deeper meaning and is open to interpretation. A picture containing a dove could be meant to convey a message about peace, or it could be a picture of a bird. A ring worn on the finger could mean a commitment to another person in marriage, and marriage itself means different things to different people, but it may also be just a piece of jewellery.

So the "$" is called a dollar sign, not a dollar symbol, because has a quite distinct and concrete meaning. It represents a unit of currency, however, it doesn't mean any unit of currency but very specifically the unit of currency known as the dollar.

So, a "sign" is some unit of communication that represents something specific, while a "symbol" is a unit of communication imbued with deeper and more complex meaning.


You can use either, because they are synonyms.

Synoymns are words that mean exactly the same thing, at least for one instance of their definitions.

Google gives two definitions of symbol as a noun:

1) a mark or character used as a conventional representation of an object, function, or process, e.g. the letter or letters standing for a chemical element or a character in musical notation.

2) a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract.

For a dollar symbol, either can be used. Both have sign as a synonym.

Google's definition of sign includes:

2)d) a symbol or word used to represent an operation, instruction, concept, or object in algebra, music, or other subjects.

So in this sense, the words are interchangeable.

However, sign has many more meanings than symbol, and this might influence how a reader views a particular usage of symbol versus sign.


Good question. I would say the normal word is sign for graphic things. The word sign is from Latin signum. The Greek symbol has practically the same meaning, but is not so often used. A fish was a symbol for Christians in ancient Rome. It was a secret sign at a time when Christians were persecuted. A white dove can be the symbol for peace. In literature or films often symbols are used. If in a film a raven occurs repeatedly before something terrible happens the raven is a symbol for coming disaster.


For the specific phrase "Dollar Symbol" vs. "Dollar Sign" any one of them could be used. On the contrary, consider "Road Signs", one usually does not use "Road Symbols" to refer to the same.

The 'noun usage' of Symbol and Sign have similar meanings and one is often (but not always) used in place of the other.

As a verb, "Sign" is also used to identify oneself as a writer or sender.


A symbol is a simple single character (like a letter or a number) or object that represents something of a deeper meaning and that is not tangible like an idea, concept, or memory. A sign is also a representation of something, but comes in any form from an illustration with multiple objects, a picture, a hand gestured, to an occurence each representing something much larger than itself.

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