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Last edited 04 Jan 2022
The metric system is a decimalised measurement system used widely throughout the world for weights and measures in everyday life, trade, science and industry. It can be used for example to express the weight of vegetables, the speed of a train, the height of a child, the intensity of light, the volume of water and so on.
One of the benefits of the metric system is its relative ease of understanding and application. Being a decimalised system, it is based on the power of 10 and parts of ten. So, there are 10 millimetres (mm) in a centimetre (cm); 100 centimetres in a metre (m) and 1,000 metres in a kilometre (km).
This can be contrasted with the relative complexity of the Imperial system which was based on irregular bases, eg 12 pence in a shilling, 20 shillings in a pound (240 pence); 12 inches in a foot (ft), three feet in a yard (yd) and 1,760 yards (yds) in a mile.
The imperial system also involved fractions that were more problematic when adding up, eg 1ft 3 3/4in plus 4ft 3 5/8in equals 5ft 7 3/8in. The metric equivalent of this addition is 396mm + 1310mm = 1706mm or 1.706m.
|Amount of substance
|SI derived unit
|metres per second
|kilogram per cubic metre
|cubic metre per kilogram
|candela per square metre
|ampere per metre
Some SI derived units have been given special names and symbols such as watt (W) to represent power and radiant flux; joule (J) to represent energy, work and quantity of heat, and newton (N) to represent force.
Traditionally, metric conversion charts and tables would have been used to convert between different units in the metric system. For example, a table for length and area measurements may show the formulae for how to convert from square kilometres to square metres, or from square metres to square millimetres. Similarly, conversion tables or formulae might be used to convert from imperial units to metric units. More recently, the advent of the internet has ushered in a host of on-line calculators that allow instant and highly accurate conversions once the value to be converted is inputted.
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