The greater-than sign is a mathematical symbol that denotes an inequality between two values. The widely adopted form of two equal-length strokes connecting in an acute angle at the right, >, has been found in documents dated as far back as the 1560s. In typical mathematical usage, the greater-than sign is typically placed between the two values being compared and signals that the first number is greater than the second number. Examples of typical usage include 1½ > 1 and 1 > −2. Since the development of computer programming languages, the greater-than sign and the less-than sign have been repurposed for a range of uses and operations.
The symbols < and > first appear in Artis Analyticae Praxis ad Aequationes Algebraicas Resolvendas (The Analytical Arts Applied to Solving Algebraic Equations) by Thomas Harriot (1560–1621), which was published posthumously in 1631. The text states: "Signum majoritatis ut a > b significet a majorem quam b" and "Signum minoritatis ut a < b significet a minorem quam b."
According to historian Art Johnson (page 144), while Harriot was surveying North America, he saw a Native American with a symbol that resembled the greater-than sign both backwards and forwards ( > and < ). Johnson says it is likely he developed the two symbols from this symbol.
The greater-than sign (>) is an original ASCII character (hex 3E, decimal 62).
Apart from this, Unicode also has the following variants:
U+232A 〉 RIGHT-POINTING ANGLE BRACKET (HTML
The greater-than sign is used for an approximation of the closing angle bracket (⟩). ASCII does not have angular brackets.
BASIC and C-family languages, (including Java and C++) use the operator > to mean "greater than". In Lisp-family languages, > is a function used to mean "greater than". In Coldfusion and Fortran, operator .GT. means "greater than".
Double greater-than sign
The double greater-than sign (>>) is used for an approximation of the much greater than sign (≫). ASCII does not have the much greater-than sign.
The double greater-than sign (>>) is also used for an approximation of the closing guillemet (»).
In Haskell, the >> function is a monadic operator. It is used for sequentially composing two actions, discarding any value produced by the first. In that regard, it is like the statement sequencing operator in imperative languages, such as the semicolon in C.
Triple greater-than sign
~:$ python Python 2.7.5 (default, Mar 9 2014, 22:15:05) [GCC 4.2.1 Compatible Apple LLVM 5.0 (clang-500.0.68)] on darwin Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information. >>> print("Hello World") Hello World >>>
Greater-than sign with equals sign
The greater-than sign plus the equals sign (>=) is used for an approximation of the greater than or equal to sign (≥, the opposite of ≤). ASCII doesn't have a greater-than-or-equal-to sign.
In Fortran, operator .GE. means "greater than or equal to".
Hyphen-minus with greater-than sign
In some programming languages (for example F#), the greater-than sign is used in conjunction with a hyphen-minus to create an arrow (->). Arrows like these could also be used in text where other arrow symbols are unavailable. In the R programming language, this can be used as the right assignment operator. In the C, C++, and C# programming languages, this is used as a member access operator.
Greater-than sign is used in the spaceship operator.
E-mail and the Internet
The greater-than sign is used to denote quotations in the e-mail and newsgroup formats, and this has been taken into use also in forums. It is also used before a sentence for a sense of implication. (>implying)