Standard & Nonstandard Units of Measurement: Concepts & Instruments

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  • 0:03 Units of Measurement
  • 1:08 Standard Units of Measurement
  • 2:11 Nonstandard Units of…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Pennington

Laura received her Master's degree in Pure Mathematics from Michigan State University. She has 15 years of experience teaching collegiate mathematics at various institutions.

In this lesson, we'll define both standard and nonstandard units of measurement. We'll discuss each of these types of units and the measuring instruments we use for both through definition, explanation, and example.

Units of Measurement

We measure things in the world around us all the time. For instance, you may want to measure the distance from your city a friend's city, measure how much milk you want to put in a recipe, or measure how much you weigh. All of these examples involve measurement.

Now, what if you were asked what units you want to use to measure each of these things? A unit of measurement is the unit used to measure a given attribute. Your answer would depend on what measuring system you normally use. If you normally use the US standard measuring system, then most likely you would use miles to measure the distance between cities, cups to measure your milk, and pounds for how much you weigh. If you normally use the metric system, then you would probably use kilometers to measure the distance, liters for the milk, and kilograms for your weight.

Regardless of which measuring system you are accustomed to using, these units of measurement are examples of standard units of measurement within each system. What does that mean? Well, when it comes to measurements, we have standard and nonstandard units. Let's take a look at each of these types of units of measurement more closely.

Standard Units of Measurement

Standard units of measurement are units of measurement that are typically used within each measurement system, like the ones we already mentioned. Because standard units of measurement are what we normally use, most measuring tools use these units. For example:

  • A ruler is a foot long and usually has inch and centimeter marks.
  • A meter stick is a meter long and usually has foot, inches, and centimeter marks.
  • Scales (depending on what type they are) use pounds, kilograms, ounces, or the like.
  • Measuring cups are normally marked in cups and ounces.

These examples don't cover them all, but you probably get the picture that common measuring instruments use standard units of measurement.

Different situations call for different units of measurement. For instance, if we want to measure the weight of a semi-truck, we would be more likely to use tons than pounds, but if we were measuring our own weight, we wouldn't even think about using tons. The more we work with standard units of measurement, the more easily we will be able to recognize which unit of measurement is appropriate for a given situation and which measuring instrument to use.

Nonstandard Units of Measurement

In a perfect world, we would always have measuring tools with standard units of measurement readily available to take a measurement. However, what do we do if we need to take a measurement and we don't have any standard measuring instruments available? Don't worry! We have a solution when this is the case! We can use nonstandard units of measurement.

Nonstandard units of measurement are units of measurement that aren't typically used. For instance, suppose we wanted to measure the distance from one wall of a room to the opposite wall. Our first instinct is to use feet, but suppose we don't have a ruler handy. This is where we can get creative.

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