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What is the Metric System?

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  • 0:01 The Metric System
  • 0:43 Distance
  • 1:41 Weight
  • 2:31 Volume
  • 3:19 Time
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Most of the world relies on the metric system for measuring distance, weight, volume, and time. Watch this video lesson to learn what kinds of measurements are used in the metric system.

The Metric System

The metric system is a system of measuring that is used all over the world. The United States has its own system of measuring that is different from the metric system, but even in the United States, wherever you go, you will see the metric system in use. When you are driving, for example, you will see your speed in both miles per hour and kilometers per hour on your car's speedometer. Miles per hour is the U.S. measuring unit, and kilometers per hour is the metric measuring unit.

In this video lesson, we will talk about this metric system and the units that it uses for measuring distance, weight, volume, and time. Because the metric system is the standard for most of the world, it is important for us to know its measuring units.

Distance

In measuring distance, such as how long your living room is, we use meters in the metric system. This is comparable to feet in the U.S. measuring system. One meter is approximately 1 yard, or 3.28 feet. You know how in the U.S., we have 12 inches in one foot and 3 feet in one yard? Well, converting between these different sizes is a lot easier in the metric system.

We have 1,000 millimeters in one meter, and 1,000 meters in one kilometer. We also have 10 millimeters in one centimeter and 100 centimeters in one meter. Do you see how in the metric system, all we have to do is go by multiples of 10 to get to the next larger size?

Here is a list of the metric measuring units for distance along with their abbreviations:

Millimeter (mm)
Centimeter (cm)
Meter (m)
Kilometer (km)

Weight

To measure weight in the metric system, we use the gram. When you weigh yourself, you will see that your scale gives you the option of using pounds or kilograms. So pound is the U.S. measuring unit for weight, and kilogram is the metric measuring unit. Just like with the meter, the different sizes of grams go by multiples of 10. There are 1,000 milligrams in one gram, and there are 1,000 grams in one kilogram. 1 kilogram is approximately 2.2 pounds. So a person that weighs 150 pounds in U.S. measuring units will weigh approximately 68 kilograms in the metric system.

Here is a list of the metric measuring units for weight along with their abbreviations:

Milligram (mg)
Gram (g)
Kilogram (kg)

Volume

Next up is volume. If you wanted to know how much space a cube contains, you would use liters in the metric system. If you look at a medicine bottle with a syringe, you might see dosage instructions in milliliters. It might say, take 2.5 milliliters of this medicine every 6 hours or so. There are approximately 4 liters in one 1 U.S. gallon. Just like with all other metric units, liters change by multiples of 10 between sizes. There are 1,000 milliliters in one liter and 1,000 liters in one kiloliter.

Here is a list of the metric units for volume along with their abbreviations:

Milliliter (mL)
Liter (L)
Kiloliter (kL)

Time

The metric unit for time is the one that is used all over the world. This is the unit that is used in stopwatches. We can say that a sprinter finished in 4.3 seconds. The metric system defines the second. We know the second as being 1/60 of a minute, and there are 60 seconds in a minute. The minute, however, is not defined in the metric system. We are just used to using it along with the second. In the metric system, however, we have 1,000 milliseconds in one second and 1,000 seconds in one kilosecond, just like other metric units. 1 kilosecond is approximately 16.7 minutes.

Here is a list of the metric units for time along with their abbreviations:

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