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Comparing Numbers

Numbers are used to show how many there are of something. We’ve been using blocks because it’s easy to see the ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands. Normally we’d be using numbers to show how many children, or apples, or teachers, or friends, or whatever we want to show.

Often we want to compare numbers.

For example, if John has 5 apples and Suzy has 8 apples, we might want to know who has more apples.

The pictures below show that Suzy has more apples.

photo of a single apple representing 1 unit

When we don’t have a picture to look at we have to use just the numbers. Here are two ways to compare numbers:

  • Count. The number you get to first is smaller. 5 comes before 8 so 5 is smaller than 8.
  • Use a number line. The greater, or higher number is always further along the line.

Comparing 2-digit numbers

When we compare 2-digit numbers we start by looking at the tens place.

If the tens are greater for one number then that number will be greater.

Parent Note: Explain that the smallest that a number with 3 tens could be is 30 and that the biggest a number with 2 tens could be is 29. Show your child these numbers on a number line.

Let’s compare 62 and 38

What if the tens are the same?

If the tens are the same we need to compare the ones. The number with more ones is greater.

The Greater Than and Less Than Symbols

Comparing 3-digit numbers

Let’s compare 285 and 464

We start by comparing the hundreds. If one number has more hundreds then it is larger.

464 > 285

If the Hundreds are the same

742 > 728

If the Hundreds and the Tens are the same

247 > 245

Comparing Large Numbers

Very often we need to compare large numbers to see which is the greatest or the least. If someone let you pick from two different amounts of money you would probably want the greatest amount!

Rules For Comparing Whole Numbers

The greater the number of digits, the greater is the number. (unless there are only zeros to the left of the number e.g. 007)

If two numbers have the same number of digits, the number with the bigger digit on the left hand side is greater.

If the leftmost digits are the same we compare the next digit to the right and keep doing this until the digits are different.

Important Note: These rules do not necessarily apply when decimals or negative numbers are involved.

How To Compare Numbers

The examples below show how you to compare numbers.

2,183,715 > 406,629 Thefirst number is 7-digits number, while second number is 6-digits
6,981,003 > 3,871,150 The first digit is bigger in the first number
6,825,021 > 6,520,512 The first digit is the same but the next digit is bigger in first number
756,983,701 > 756,683,701 The first three digits are the same but fourth is greater in first number

Try these comparing numbers worksheets to practice,

And have a go at this fun ordering numbers game from the BBC Skillwise site.

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  • "Comparing Numbers". Helping with Math. Accessed on May 24, 2024. https://helpingwithmath.com/comparing-numbers/.

  • "Comparing Numbers". Helping with Math, https://helpingwithmath.com/comparing-numbers/. Accessed 24 May, 2024.

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