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Chemistry LibreTexts

1.1: The Importance of Units

  • Page ID
  • Learning Objectives
    • Express quantities properly, using a number and a unit.

    Chemists measure the properties of matter and express these measurements as quantities. A quantity is an amount of something and consists of a number and a unit. The number indicates how many (or how much), and the unit describes the scale of measurement. For example, when a distance is reported as “5 miles,” the quantity has been expressed in units of "miles" and the numerical value is "5."  The magnitude of this distance is conveyed by its unit.  Changing the unit that is associated with a number alters the interpretation of the quantity that is being expressed.  For example, "5 inches," "5 feet," and "5 miles" are all very different distances, because of the units that are associated with each numerical quantity.  Furthermore, reporting a numerical value without a unit renders that quantity meaningless.  Both a number and a unit must be included in order to express a quantity properly.  

    The remaining content in this section relates to the systems in which scientists classify units of measurement.  The following sections of this chapter will present and apply the rules that are used for expressing numbers.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Identify the number and the unit in each quantity.

    1. one dozen eggs
    2. 2.54 centimeters
    3. a box of pencils
    4. 88 meters per second


    1. The number is "one," and the unit is "dozen eggs."
    2. The number is "2.54," and the unit is "centimeter."
    3. The number is an implied "1," because the quantity is "a" box. The unit is "box of pencils."
    4. The number is "88," and the unit is "meters per second." Note that in this case the unit is actually a combination of two units, "meters" and "seconds."
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