Distance in the Metric System

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  • 0:01 Metric Distance Units
  • 1:05 The Conversions
  • 1:45 Example 1
  • 2:13 Example 2
  • 3:00 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.

Watch this video lesson to learn what units are used in the metric system for measuring. Also, learn how easy it is to convert from one unit to another.

Metric Distance Units

This lesson focuses on the metric system. Specifically, the units used to measure distance or length in the metric system. The metric system is a decimal system of measuring. The basic unit for length using this system is the meter. One meter is a little bit longer than the width of a doorway.

The meter is called the basic unit because all other units to measure distance in the metric system are based on the meter. For example, to measure small things, such as the width of your belly button, you would use centimeters. Notice that this word also contains the word meter. To measure even smaller things, there is a millimeter. To measure larger distances, there is the kilometer. One kilometer is roughly half a mile.

Each of these measurement units also has an abbreviation. When written with a measurement, the centimeter is written as cm. So, four centimeters is written as 4 cm. The abbreviation for millimeter is mm, m for meter, and for kilometer, it is km.

Unit Abbreviation
Millimeter mm
Centimeter cm
Meter m
Kilometer km

The Conversions

Because this metric system is a decimal system, the conversions between these measurements are in multiples of 10. There are 10 millimeters in 1 centimeter, so you multiply by 10 to convert centimeters to millimeters and divide by 10 to convert millimeters to centimeters. There are 100 centimeters in 1 meter, so you multiply by 100 to convert meters to centimeters and divide by 100 to convert centimeters to meters.

There are 1,000 meters in 1 kilometer, so you multiply by 1,000 to convert kilometers to meters and divide by 1,000 to convert meters to kilometers. Remember, if you are going from larger to smaller, you multiply and if you are going from smaller to larger, you divide.

Example 1

Let's look at a couple of examples to see how these conversions work.

Convert 54 millimeters to centimeters.

You are converting from millimeters to centimeters, which is going from smaller to larger, so you need to divide by 10. Dividing 54 by 10 gives you 54 / 10 = 5.4. So, 54 millimeters is equal to 5.4 centimeters.

Example 2

Convert 2.3 meters to millimeters.

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