Distance and displacement

When we speak of distance we refer to the length between any two points in space, while displacement refers to the distance from an initial position to a final position regardless of the path.

Distance is a scalar measure because it is independent of direction. It is expressed with a number and its corresponding unit, either meters, kilometers or any other. Instead, the displacement is a vector quantity that depends on the direction. For this, it is expressed as a numerical value with its respective unit, in addition to indicating the direction and the sense.

MeaningMeasurement of the length traveled by a body.Measure of the variation in the position of a body between a starting point and an ending point.
How it is expressedIn numbers and a unit of magnitude, such as meters.A module, unit, direction and meaning.
ValuePositive.Positive, negative, or zero.


What is distance?

The word distance comes from the Latin distantia and means ‘that which is established far away’.

Distance refers to the length of the path that is traveled. This means that starting from point A to point B there is a length that joins these two points, this length of the path is called distance.

Likewise, if the route is made between more than two points, the total distance traveled will be the sum of all the distances traveled.

Being a scalar magnitude, the distance is expressed in numbers and a unit of magnitude, for example, 5 kilometers.

The distance is usually always greater than the displacement, their values ​​will only coincide if the path is a straight line.

Distance example

If a person walks five meters north, eight meters east, and then another twelve meters south, the total distance traveled will be the sum of each of the distances. Therefore, it will have traveled a distance of 25 meters.

5 meters + 8 meters + 12 meters = 25 meters.

What is displacement?

The word displacement refers to the movement that is made from one place to another. When something moves from an initial position to a final position, it is said that there was a displacement.

The distance and direction of the final position in relation to the initial position is what tells us what the length of the displacement was.

Displacement is a vector quantity . The vector originates from the initial position and at its end the final position is indicated, while the module is the distance in a straight line between the initial position and the final position.

According to this, if the object in question starts and ends at the same point, the displacement will be equal to zero.

Displacement is expressed in units of measure such as kilometers or meters, and includes the direction that, depending on the defined coordinate system, can be north, south, east, and west.

Displacement example

If a person walks 200 meters south from his house and then returns, the result of the displacement will be equal to zero, considering that his house was the starting point and the end point.

If a cyclist travels 3 km north and 5 km east, their displacement from the starting point will be 5.83 km in a northeast direction. Instead, the distance traveled will be 8km.

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