Metric Units of Volume

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Does the metric system sound scary and confusing? Never fear! This lesson will help you with common metric units of volume and introduce you to the metric system's logic.

Metric System vs. Standard System

Do you find yourself saying any of the following?

  • I need 5 milliliters of baking soda to make these cookies.
  • I'd like to buy a liter of milk.
  • Can you pass me my 250 mL mug?

No? Okay, that's probably because you live in the United States where we primarily use United States customary units which were developed from English units used during the British Empire. As a result, tablespoons, gallons, and cups probably sound more familiar to you, but the metric system is the system of measurements used throughout most of the world and by scientists everywhere, even in the United States.

This lesson will help you begin to navigate the world of the metric system, primarily the metric units of volume, or the space an object takes up. A unit, by the way, is the type of measurement used and is represented by a symbol. For example, we have already talked about many different units of measurement including cups, liters, and gallons.

Liter and Milliliters

One of the most common metric units of volume you will come across is the liter. Even though the United States doesn't use the metric system, you will find that liters are used all over the place. A liter is represented by the symbol L and is approximately 4 cups. The next time you go to the grocery store, check out the volumes of different drinks and you'll likely see liters are used exclusively or alongside typical US measurements.

Yu can see that both liters and gallons are used on this package.
Liter

While you'll probably run into liters quite often at the grocery store, you are probably equally likely to see milliliters, which are represented by the symbol mL. The prefix 'milli' means 1/1000th, so there are 1,000 mL in 1 L. There are approximately 5 mL in one teaspoon.

Many water bottles show volume in mL and oz. (ounces)
bottle

Take a look at the table to see some everyday items that are liters or milliliters.

Item Volume
Popular water bottles 1000 mL (or 1 L)
A coffee or tea mug 250 mL
1 teaspoon about 5 mL
A large bottle of soda 2 L

Other Metric Units

The key to navigating the metric system is to learn the prefixes. You already know that the the prefix milli means 1/1000th, but there are other prefixes too! Take a look at the table to see some prefixes and what they mean.

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