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<3 — What It Really Means and How to Use It

<3 — What It Really Means and How to Use It

Everyone knows that communication on the internet has its oddities.

There are memes, where people make endless different captions for a single image. There are acronyms which don’t make sense unless you spend lots of time online.

And, of course, there are smileys (also known as emoticons or emoji). In this post, we’ll take a look at the meaning of the smiley <3 and how to use it in a sentence.


What is the meaning of <3?

When it’s used as a smiley, <3 represents a heart. People on the internet might use this to show that they care about someone or something. Like most smileys, <3 is usually placed at the end of a sentence or message. However, it can also be used in place of the word “love” in a sentence.


The origin story of a romantic smiley

Unlike some terms used online, <3 doesn’t have a unique backstory.

There’s no clever origin at a fancy university dating back to ARPANET like with 😉 or an origin going back hundreds of years like the humble #.

Instead, <3 simply looks like a stylized heart drawing if you squint and tilt your head to one side. That’s really all there is to it!


Using <3 at the end of a sentence

As with most smileys, the most common way to use <3 is to place it at the end of a sentence or other message.

Placing a heart in this location just shows general feelings of some kind of love, whether it’s romantic or strictly platonic.
In fact, some people just throw hearts on the end of everything because they like hearts.

In most cases, then, you shouldn’t read anything into a <3 every now and again.

You can think of it as a way to show general excitedness, contentment, or love (in the broadest possible sense) and shouldn’t interpret it to mean someone has romantic feelings for you personally, even if it’s in a message directed at you.

Grammar and punctuation on the internet are often optional, of course. But generally speaking, the correct way to use <3 at the end of a sentence is to just add a space and then add your smiley.

Example Sentences

“I can’t believe we’re going to the beach tomorrow. I’m so excited! <3”
“Awww, that’s so sweet of you! <3”
“You’re so great. <3”


These three messages all show the smiley <3 in typical examples.

Note that, although each of the messages could be romantic, they could also just be happy in general.


Using <3 by itself

An even simpler way to use <3 is to place it by itself in a sentence.

This is the internet! A smiley can be a whole sentence by itself, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

More seriously, <3 by itself is usually a response to something someone else has said. You might see a single <3 or even a whole string of them.

Much like when <3 is used after a sentence, don’t read too much into it. It could mean anything from “I am madly in love with you” to “thanks” or “I’m excited.”

Example Sentences

“Check out my new kitten picture!”
“<3 <3 <3”


Here, the respondent probably just likes kitten pictures.

“Just coming home from work, will pick up flowers on my way over.”
“<3 <3”

The <3 is probably romantic in origin in this case, since flowers are involved. But the meaning is something like “see you soon” and “I’m excited” all mixed together, regardless.


Using <3 in place of the word “love”

One of the most iconic t-shirts, if there is such a thing, has to be the one that has the word “I,” a picture of a heart, and then “New York.”

It’s obvious from looking at the shirt that the heart is standing in for the word “love,” and in the same way, you can use the <3 smiley to replace the word love in a message online.

In this case, it’s a simple one to one swap. Just remove the word “love” from your sentence and stick a <3 in there instead.

The meaning doesn’t change.

Example Sentences

“omg nachos! I <3 nachos so much!”
“i <3 u, julian!”
“There’s nothing I <3 more than the first week of autumn weather.”


In each of these examples, the <3 could easily be replaced with the word “love.”

There is no particular change in meaning just because the <3 symbol was used instead.


<3 extreme edition

Finally, it’s worth noting there are more unusual ways to use <3.

Most people who use <3 don’t think anything of it. The characters that make it up are just forming a picture of a heart, end of story.

However, there are always some people who take everything to extremes.

On the Internet, these tend to be people who enjoy deconstructing memes and smileys to draw attention to how odd they actually are.

If you run into one of these people, you might catch them saying that they “less than three” something.

On the face of it, that’s a bizarre expression that doesn’t seem like it could mean anything.

When you remember that the characters in <3 are the less than symbol and a three, it starts to make sense.

Even though this is a fairly odd way to use <3, it’s important to note that the core meaning of the smiley doesn’t change.

Saying you “less than three” someone might be a little goofy and weird, and some people do use it exclusively to fake-confess their feelings for others.

On the other hand, there really are some people who use it sincerely.

Like with all internet communications, it’s best to assume that anyone saying “less than three” for a <3 has good intentions unless proven otherwise.

Unlike <3 itself, the phrase “less than three” is almost exclusively used when <3 is replacing the word “love” in a sentence.

That context is needed, because otherwise people won’t understand why you’re suddenly talking about math.

It’s also almost always used with “I” in front, presumably because adding an s to the end for other pronouns (“he less than threes you”) looks really strange.

The internet being the internet, you might think there are other weird ways people use this.

What about saying you “less than four” or “less than six” someone to show even greater love, since those are bigger numbers than three? Sadly, it looks like nobody has gone that far… yet.

Example Sentences

“You’re so sweet, I totally less than three you!
“I less than three tacos”


These sentences look completely ungrammatical and nonsensical, but just swap out “less than three” for the word “love” or for a <3 and you’ll see that they make perfect sense.