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International System of

The International System of Units (abbreviated SI from
the French Le Système International d’Unités) is the modern
form of the metric system and is generally a system devised
around the convenience of the number ten. It is the world's
most widely used and oldest system of measurement, both
in everyday commerce and in science.

The older metric system included several groups of units.

The SI was developed in 1960 from the old metre-kilogram-
second (mks) system, rather than the centimeter-gram-
second (cgs) system, which, in turn, had a few variants.
Because the SI is not static, units are created and definitions
are modified through international agreement among many
nations as the technology of measurement progresses, and
as the precision of measurements improve.

The system is nearly universally employed, and most

countries do not even maintain official definitions of any
other units. A notable exception is the United States, which
continues to use customary units in addition to SI. In the
United Kingdom, conversion to metric units is government
policy, but the transition is not quite complete. Those
countries that still recognize non-SI units (e.g., the US) have
redefined their traditional non-SI units in terms of SI units.

Three nations have not officially adopted the International

System of Units as their primary or sole system of
measurement: Liberia, Myanmar and the United States.

Realization of units
It is important to distinguish between the definition of a unit
and its realization. The definition of each base unit of the SI
is carefully drawn up so that it is unique and provides a
sound theoretical basis upon which the most accurate and
reproducible measurements can be made. The realization of
the definition of a unit is the procedure by which the
definition may be used to establish the value and associated
uncertainty of a quantity of the same kind as the unit. A
description of how the definitions of some important units
are realized in practice is given on the BIPM website.

A coherent SI derived unit can be expressed in SI base units

with no numerical factor other than the number 1.[5] The
coherent SI derived unit of resistance, the ohm, symbol Ω,
for example, is uniquely defined by the relation
Ω = m2·kg·s−3·A−2, which follows from the definition of the
quantity electrical resistance. However, any method
consistent with the laws of physics could be used to realize
any SI unit.

The metric system was conceived by a group of scientists
(among them, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, who is known as
the "father of modern chemistry") who had been
commissioned by Louis XVI of France to create a unified and
rational system of measures. After the French Revolution,
the system was adopted by the new government. On August
1, 1793, the National Convention adopted the new decimal
"metre" with a provisional length as well as the other
decimal units with preliminary definitions and terms. On April
7, 1795 (Loi du 18 germinal, an III) the terms "gramme" and
"kilogramme" replaced the former terms "gravet" (correctly
"milligrave") and "grave". On December 10, 1799 (a month
after Napoleon's coup d'etat), the metric system was
definitively adopted in France.

The history of the metric system has seen a number of

variations, whose use has spread around the world, to
replace many traditional measurement systems. At the end
of World War II a number of different systems of
measurement were still in use throughout the world. Some of
these systems were metric-system variations, whereas
others were based on customary systems. It was recognized
that additional steps were needed to promote a worldwide
measurement system. As a result the 9th General
Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM), in 1948,
asked the International Committee for Weights and
Measures (CIPM) to conduct an international study of the
measurement needs of the scientific, technical, and
educational communities.

Based on the findings of this study, the 10th CGPM in 1954

decided that an international system should be derived from
six base units to provide for the measurement of
temperature and optical radiation in addition to mechanical
and electromagnetic quantities. The six base units that were
recommended are the metre, kilogram, second, ampere,
degree Kelvin (later renamed the Kelvin), and the candela. In
1960, the 11th CGPM named the system the International
System of Units, abbreviated SI from the French name: Le
Système international d'unités. The seventh base unit, the
mole, was added in 1971 by the 14th CGPM.

Future development

ISO 31 contains recommendations for the use of the

International System of Units; for electrical applications, in
addition, IEC 60027 has to be taken into account. As of 2008,
work is proceeding to integrate both standards into a joint
standard Quantities and Units in which the quantities and
equations used with SI are to be referred as the
International System of Quantities (ISQ).[8]

A readable discussion of the present units and standards is

found at Brian W. Petley International Union of Pure and
Applied Physics I.U.P.A.P. - 39 (2004).


The international system of units consists of a set of units

together with a set of prefixes. The units of SI can be divided
into two subsets. There are seven base units: Each of these
base units represents, at least in principle, different kinds of
physical quantities. From these seven base units, several
other units are derived. In addition to the SI units, there is
also a set of non-SI units accepted for use with SI.

SI base units

Name Symbol Quantity

metre m length

kilogram kg mass

second s time

ampere A electric current

Kelvin K thermodynamic temperature

candela cd luminous intensity

mole mol amount of substance

A prefix may be added to a unit to produce a multiple of the

original unit. All multiples are integer powers of ten. For
example, kilo- denotes a multiple of a thousand and milli-
denotes a multiple of a thousandth; hence there are one
thousand millimetres to the metre and one thousand meters
to the kilometre. The prefixes are never combined: a
millionth of a kilogram is a milligram not a microkilogram.

Standard prefixes for the SI units of measure

deca hect mega tera zetta yotta
Name kilo- giga- peta- exa-
- o- - - - -

Multiples da h k M G T P E Z Y

Facto 10 1
0 10 102 103 106 109 1012 1015 1018 1021 1024

deci centi milli micr nano pico femt atto zept yocto
- - - o- - - o- - o- -

Subdivisi Symb
d c m µ n p f a z y
ons ol

−1 −1
Facto 10 −1 −2 −3 −6 −9 10 −15 10
0 10 10 10 10 10 2 10 8 10−21 10−24

SI writing style

• Symbols do not have an appended period/full stop (.).

• Symbols are written in upright (Roman) type (m for
metres, l for litres), so as to differentiate from the italic
type used for variables (m for mass, l for length). By
consensus of international standards bodies, this rule is
applied independent of the font used for surrounding
• Symbols for units are written in lower case, except for
symbols derived from the name of a person. For
example, the unit of pressure is named after Blaise
Pascal, so its symbol is written "Pa", whereas the unit
itself is written "Pascal". All symbols of prefixes larger
than 103 (kilo) are also uppercase.
o The one exception is the litre, whose original
symbol "l" is unsuitably similar to the numeral "1"
or the uppercase letter "i" (depending on the
typeface used), at least in many English-speaking
countries. The American National Institute of
Standards and Technology recommends that "L"
be used instead, a usage which is common in the
US, Canada and Australia (but not elsewhere). This
has been accepted as an alternative by the CGPM
since 1979. The cursive ℓ is occasionally seen,
especially in Japan and Greece, but this is not
currently recommended by any standards body.
For more information, see Litre.
• The SI rule is that symbols of units are not pluralized,
for example "25 kg" (not "25 kgs").[10]
o The American National Institute of Standards and
Technology has defined guidelines for American
users of the SI.[11][12] These guidelines give
guidance on pluralizing unit names: the plural is
formed by using normal English grammar rules, for
example, "henries" is the plural of "henry". The
units lux, hertz, and siemens are exceptions from
this rule: They remain the same in singular and
plural. Note that this rule applies only to the full
names of units, not to their symbols.
• A space separates the number and the symbol; e.g.,
"2.21 kg", "7.3×102 m2", "22 K".[13][14] This rule explicitly
includes the percent sign. Exceptions are the symbols
for plane angular degrees, minutes and seconds
(°, ′ and ″), which are placed immediately after the
number with no intervening space.
• Spaces may be used as a thousands separator
(1 000 000) in contrast to commas or periods
(1,000,000 or 1.000.000) in order to reduce confusion
resulting from the variation between these forms in
different countries. In print, the space used for this
purpose is typically narrower than that between words
(commonly a thin space).
• Any line-break inside a number, inside a compound unit
or between number and unit should be avoided, but, if
necessary, the latter option should be used.
• The 10th resolution of CGPM in 2003 declared that "the
symbol for the decimal marker shall be either the point
on the line or the comma on the line." In practice, the
decimal point is used in English and the comma in most
other European languages.
• Symbols for derived units formed from multiple units by
multiplication are joined with a space or centre dot (·),
for example "N m" or "N·m".[15]
• Symbols formed by division of two units are joined with
a solidus (⁄), or given as a negative exponent. For
example, the "metre per second" can be written "m/s",
"m s−1", "m·s−1" or only one solidus should be used;
i.e., "kg·m ·s " is preferable to "kg/m/s2", and
−1 −2

"kg/m·s2" is something else. Many computer users will

type the / character provided on computer keyboards,
which in turn produces the Unicode character U+002F,
which is named solidus but is distinct from the Unicode
solidus character, U+2044.
• In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean language computing
(CJK), some of the commonly-used units, prefix-unit
combinations, or unit-exponent combinations have
been allocated predefined single characters taking up a
full square. Unicode includes these in its CJK
Compatibility and Letterlike Symbols subranges for
back compatibility, without necessarily recommending
future usage.
• When writing dimensionless quantities, the terms 'ppb'
(parts per billion) and 'ppt' (parts per trillion) are
recognized as language-dependent terms, since the
value of billion and trillion can vary from language to
language. SI, therefore, recommends avoiding these
terms.[16] However, no alternative is suggested by the
International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM).
Spelling variations

• The official US spellings for deca, metre, and litre are

deka, meter, and liter, respectively.[17]
• In some English-speaking countries, the unit ampere is
often shortened to amp (singular) or amps (plural) in
informal writing as well as on many electrical
appliances. Secs may sometimes be seen instead of s
or seconds.

Length, mass and temperature convergence

Specific gravity is commonly expressed in SI units or in

reference to water. Since a cube with sides of 1 dm has
volume of 1 dm3, which is 1 L and, when filled with water,
has a mass of 1 kg, water has an approximate specific
gravity of 1 kg/L, which is equal to 1 g/cm3 and 1 t/m3, and
will freeze at 0C at 1 atmosphere of pressure.

Note that this is only an approximate definition of the kg, as

the density of water can change with temperature; the
actual definition is based on a specific platinum-iridium
cylinder held in a vault at the BIPM in Sèvres, France.

Cultural issues

The near-worldwide adoption of the metric system as a tool

of economy and everyday commerce was based to some
extent on the lack of customary systems in many countries
to adequately describe some concepts, or as a result of an
attempt to standardize the many regional variations in the
customary system. International factors also affected the
adoption of the metric system, as many countries increased
their trade. For use in science, it simplifies dealing with very
large and small quantities, since it lines up so well with the
decimal numeral system.

Many units in everyday and scientific use are not derived

from the seven SI base units (metre, kilogram, second,
ampere, Kelvin, mole, and candela) combined with the SI
prefixes. In some cases these deviations have been
approved by the BIPM.[18] Some examples include:

• The many units of time — minute (min), hour (h), day

(d) — in use besides the SI second, and are specifically
accepted for use according to table 6.
• The year is specifically not included but has a
recommended conversion factor.
• The Celsius temperature scale; Kelvin’s are rarely
employed in everyday use.
• Electric energy is often billed in kilowatt-hours instead
of megajoules.
• The nautical mile and knot (nautical mile per hour) used
to measure travel distance and speed of ships and
aircraft (1 International nautical mile = 1852 m or
approximately 1 minute of latitude). In addition to
these, Annex 5 of the Convention on International Civil
Aviation permits the "temporary use" of the foot for
• Astronomical distances measured in astronomical units,
parsecs, and light-years instead of, say, petametres (a
light-year is about 9.461 Pm or about 9 461 000 000
000 000 m).
• Atomic scale units used in physics and chemistry, such
as the ångström, electron volt, atomic mass unit and
• Some physicists prefer the centimetre-gram-second
(CGS) units, with their associated non-SI electric units.
• In some countries the informal cup measurement has
become 250 ml. Likewise, a 500 g "metric pound" is
used in many countries. Liquids, especially alcoholic
ones, are often sold in units whose origins are historical
(for example, pints for beer and cider in glasses in the
UK — although pint means 568 ml; champagne in
Jeroboams in France).
• A metric mile of 10 km is used in Norway and Sweden.
The term metric mile is also used in some English
speaking countries for the 1500 m foot race.
• In the US blood glucose measurements are recorded in
milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL); in Canada, Australia,
New Zealand, Oceania and Europe, the standard is
millimole per litre (mmol/L) or mM (millimolar).
• Blood pressure is measured in mmHg instead of Pa.

The fine-tuning that has happened to the metric base-unit

definitions over the past 200 years, as experts have tried
periodically to find more precise and reproducible methods,
does not affect the everyday use of metric units. Since most
non-SI units in common use, such as the US customary units,
are nowadays defined in SI units, any change in the
definition of the SI units results in a change of the definition
of the older units, as well.

The candela is the luminous intensity, in a given direction, of
a source that emits monochromatic radiation of frequency
540×1012 hertz and that has a radiant intensity in that
direction of 1/683 watt per steradian.

The mole is the amount of substance of a system which
contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in
0.012 kilogram of carbon 12; its symbol is “mol”.


Under the International System of Units, the second is

currently defined as the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of
the radiation corresponding to the transition between the
two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133

This definition refers to a cesium atom at rest at a

temperature of 0 K (absolute zero), and with appropriate
corrections for gravitational time dilation. The ground state
is defined at zero magnetic field. The second thus defined is
consistent with the ephemeris second, which was based on
astronomical measurements.
The Kelvin (symbol: K) is a unit increment of temperature
and is one of the seven SI base units. The Kelvin scale is a
thermodynamic (absolute) temperature scale where
absolute zero, the theoretical absence of all thermal energy,
is zero (0 K). The Kelvin scale and the Kelvin are named after
the Irish physicist and engineer William Thomson, 1st Baron
Kelvin (1824-1907), who wrote of the need for an “absolute
thermometric scale”.

Kelvin temperature conversion formulae

from Kelvin to Kelvin
Celsius [°C] = [K] − 273.15 [K] = [°C] + 273.15

Fahrenheit [°F] = [K] × 9⁄5 − 459.67 [K] = ([°F] + 459.67) × 5⁄9

Rankine [°R] = [K] × 9⁄5 [K] = [°R] × 5⁄9

For temperature intervals rather than specific temperatures,

1 K = 1 °C = 1.8 °F = 1.8 °R