Measurement Central: Measurement Systems and Conversions

Measurement Millimeter Centimeter Meter 162500 Credit: Pixabay/Pexels

Understanding measurements lets you comprehend the world around you better. Most countries around the world use the metric system but, in the United States, we use the imperial system. The imperial system measures distance in terms of inches, feet, and miles. The metric system measures distance in terms of millimeters, centimeters, meters, and kilometers.

Importance of Measurements

Measurements are so ingrained in daily life that most people take them for granted. Understanding how to measure and how to convert measurements is important in school and science. It's also important in everyday living. Measuring medication dosages is a prime example. Other examples include setting a thermostat, cooking, buying clothing, and even playing sports. Measurements are also a key element in avoiding the chaos that would come from not having a way to understand mass, weight, length, and distance.

Measurement Systems

Measurements are one way to figure out how much of anything you have. Around the globe, there are two main systems used for measuring things. Most of the world measures using the metric system. Only three countries continue using the imperial system, according to Statista. In addition to the U.S., the others are Myanmar and Liberia.

Imperial System

In the U.S., most items are measured using the imperial system. This way of measuring distances and weights came from the British Empire. It's also sometimes called the "British Imperial." The British Empire dominated many corners of the world between the 1500s and the 1800s. After America gained its independence, leaders decided to keep the measurement system in place.

Metric System

The metric system was created during the late 1700s to simplify the different ways that Europeans were measuring weights and distances. Before the introduction of the metric system, weights, land area, and units of length could all vary in different parts of the same country and in different regions of the world.

Common Measurements

The measurements used to determine weight, distance, and size depend on the measurement system in use. In imperial measurement, you hear more about miles and pounds. In the metric system, you hear about kilometers and kilograms. 

Imperial System Measurements

  • Inches
  • Feet
  • Yards 
  • Miles
  • Ounces
  • Pounds
  • Tons
  • Teaspoons 
  • Tablespoons
  • Cups
  • Gallons
  • Pints
  • Quarts
  • Pecks
  • Bushels

Metric System Measurements

  • Millimeters
  • Centimeters
  • Meters
  • Kilometers
  • Milligrams
  • Grams 
  • Kilograms
  • Metric tons
  • Milliliters
  • Liters
  • Kiloliters

Conversions to Remember

Having a basic understanding of measurement systems is helpful. There may be times when you need to convert one measurement into another. For example, height is often expressed in inches in the imperial system. Every 12 inches is 1 foot. To calculate how tall 70 inches is in feet, you would divide 70 inches by 12. Other common measurements to consider include the following:

Imperial System Conversions

  • Distance: There are 12 inches in every 1 foot; 3 feet make up 1 yard; 1 mile is made up of 5,280 feet
  • Weight: There are 16 ounces in 1 pound; 2,000 pounds make up 1 ton
  • Volume: There are 3 teaspoons in 1 tablespoon; 16 tablespoons make up 1 cup; 2 cups make 1 pint; 2 pints make 1 quart; 4 quarts make 1 gallon.

Metric System Conversions

  • Distance: There are 10 millimeters in every centimeter and 1,000 millimeters in a meter; there are 100 centimeters in a meter and 1,000 meters in a kilometer
  • Weight: There are 1,000 milligrams in a gram, 1,000 grams in a kilogram, and 1,000 kilograms in a metric ton

Volume: There are 1,000 milliliters in a liter and 1,000 liters in a kiloliter