Relational Operators


Binary operators which allow the comparison of values in atomic vectors.


x < y
x > y
x <= y
x >= y
x == y
x != y


x, y

atomic vectors, symbols, calls, or other objects for which methods have been written.


The binary comparison operators are generic functions: methods can be written for them individually or via the Ops) group generic function. (See Ops for how dispatch is computed.)

Comparison of strings in character vectors is lexicographic within the strings using the collating sequence of the locale in use: see locales. The collating sequence of locales such as en_US is normally different from C (which should use ASCII) and can be surprising. Beware of making any assumptions about the collation order: e.g.\sspacein Estonian Z comes between S and T, and collation is not necessarily character-by-character – in Danish aa sorts as a single letter, after z. In Welsh ng may or may not be a single sorting unit: if it is it follows g. Some platforms may not respect the locale and always sort in numerical order of the bytes in an 8-bit locale, or in Unicode code-point order for a UTF-8 locale (and may not sort in the same order for the same language in different character sets). Collation of non-letters (spaces, punctuation signs, hyphens, fractions and so on) is even more problematic.

Character strings can be compared with different marked encodings (see Encoding): they are translated to UTF-8 before comparison.

Raw vectors should not really be considered to have an order, but the numeric order of the byte representation is used.

At least one of x and y must be an atomic vector, but if the other is a list R attempts to coerce it to the type of the atomic vector: this will succeed if the list is made up of elements of length one that can be coerced to the correct type.

If the two arguments are atomic vectors of different types, one is coerced to the type of the other, the (decreasing) order of precedence being character, complex, numeric, integer, logical and raw.

Missing values (NA) and NaN values are regarded as non-comparable even to themselves, so comparisons involving them will always result in NA. Missing values can also result when character strings are compared and one is not valid in the current collation locale.

Language objects such as symbols and calls are deparsed to character strings before comparison.


A logical vector indicating the result of the element by element comparison. The elements of shorter vectors are recycled as necessary.

Objects such as arrays or time-series can be compared this way provided they are conformable.

S4 methods

These operators are members of the S4 Compare group generic, and so methods can be written for them individually as well as for the group generic (or the Ops group generic), with arguments c(e1, e2).


Do not use == and != for tests, such as in if expressions, where you must get a single TRUE or FALSE. Unless you are absolutely sure that nothing unusual can happen, you should use the identical function instead.

For numerical and complex values, remember == and != do not allow for the finite representation of fractions, nor for rounding error. Using all.equal with identical is almost always preferable. See the examples. (This also applies to the other comparison operators.)

These operators are sometimes called as functions as e.g.\sspace`<`(x, y): see the description of how argument-matching is done in Ops.


Becker, R. A., Chambers, J. M. and Wilks, A. R. (1988) The New S Language. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole.

Collation of character strings is a complex topic. For an introduction see The Unicode Collation Algorithm ( is likely to be increasingly influential. Where available R by default makes use of ICU ( for collation (except in a C locale).

See Also

factor for the behaviour with factor arguments.

Syntax for operator precedence.

capabilities for whether ICU is available, and icuSetCollate to tune the string collation algorithm when it is.


x <- stats::rnorm(20)
x < 1
x[x > 0]

x1 <- 0.5 - 0.3
x2 <- 0.3 - 0.1
x1 == x2                           # FALSE on most machines
identical(all.equal(x1, x2), TRUE) # TRUE everywhere

# range of most 8-bit charsets, as well as of Latin-1 in Unicode
z <- c(32:126, 160:255)
x <- if(l10n_info()$MBCS) {
    intToUtf8(z, multiple = TRUE)
} else rawToChar(as.raw(z), multiple = TRUE)
## by number
writeLines(strwrap(paste(x, collapse=" "), width = 60))
## by locale collation
writeLines(strwrap(paste(sort(x), collapse=" "), width = 60))

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