What is the difference betwen scalar versus vector quantities?


Quick Answer

The difference between scalar and vector quantities is that the former only provides numerical data or magnitude, while the latter also provides direction in addition to magnitude. Examples of scalar quantity include mass and speed (e.g., 12 kg, 5 m/s), while velocity (e.g., 6 m/s, north) and acceleration (e.g., 2 m/s^2, east) are examples of vector quantities.

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Full Answer

Since scalar quantities only provide numerical data, they are also known as one-dimensional quantities. In comparison, vector quantities are considered multidimensional quantities.

Vector quantities are mostly used in scientific and mathematical applications where direction is important information, whereas scalar quantities are used on a day-to-day basis. Combining and comparing vector quantities are also more complex than with scalar quantities, because direction is treated as another measurement in addition to the magnitude. In writing equations, a vector quantity's direction is written after the numerical information and is written in brackets (e.g., 4 m/s [north]).

Some scalar and vector quantities are often interchanged due to confusion and the quantities' similarity. An example of this is how velocity is misinterpreted as speed despite the additional information of direction, or how speed is misinterpreted as velocity even without the information of direction. Other examples include distance and displacement, and mass and weight.

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