# Def'n: mass vs. weight / kg vs. lbs

Gold Member

## Main Question or Discussion Point

My friend, who has been researching basic physics, is saying the following, which I frankly had never heard of:

We use metric and imperial measurements interchangably (I weigh 82kg or 180 lbs, same diff) but they are not at their essense the same thing.

Pounds measure weight - our weight here on Earth (an effect of the gravitational pull of the Earth), whereas kilograms are intended to measure mass (a property of the number of atoms in the sample, independent of gravity). The distinction is largely academic, but it is real.

I do not doubt her knowledge, I have just never heard of this distinction. Is there truth to this?

Please don't misunderstand my question: I have no doubt whatever about the difference between weight and mass, my doubt is about the unit of measurement being pounds vs. kg.

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cristo
Staff Emeritus
Are you asking if there is a difference between mass and weight? If so, then yes; your weight is a force, and depends on the gravitational field in which you are being weighed, whereas your mass is an invariant quantity (i.e. doesn't depend on where it is being measured)

Note that, here, the pound being used is the "pound-force." There is also, to confuse matters enormously, a unit of mass called the pound (or "pound-mass").

Edit: Your last line wasn't there when I replied! Still, the confusion is probably arising due to there being two different quantities with the name "pound." In my experience, a pound is a unit of mass-- but then I was answering a homework question which used the pound as a unit of force (or weight). It was only then that I found out about this "pound-force," since I've only ever used the pound as being the imperial unit of mass!

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Yes, you are correct...sort of. Some governments have officially declared "pound" as a unit of mass, including the US and UK. Pound-force is the US and UK's official unit for force or weight due to gravity.

Anyone who frequents the forum knows DaveC know what mass and weight are.

cristo
Staff Emeritus
Anyone who frequents the forum knows DaveC know what mass and weight are.
Sorry, Dave!

Gold Member
Anyone who frequents the forum knows DaveC know what mass and weight are.
I ... think I'm flattered...

Yes, you are correct...sort of. Some governments have officially declared "pound" as a unit of mass, including the US and UK. Pound-force is the US and UK's official unit for force or weight due to gravity.

Anyone who frequents the forum knows DaveC know what mass and weight are.

Like I'm going to listen to the government. Officially for me, a pound is a unit of weight, just as a newton or a dyne is a unit of weight (or force). Grams and kilograms are considered a unit of mass.

I often like when people say that 1 pound is equal to 454 grams and vise versa. Of course this is only true on the surface of the earth but anyway...

Integral
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
The (old) official unit of mass in the imperial system is/was the Slug. Pounds are units of force. So yes, there is a real difference between pounds and Kilograms.

Gold Member
I often like when people say that 1 pound is equal to 454 grams and vise versa. Of course this is only true on the surface of the earth but anyway...
So, what is a pound equal to at the top of Mt. Everest, or on the Moon?

HallsofIvy
Homework Helper
Yes, you are correct...sort of. Some governments have officially declared "pound" as a unit of mass, including the US and UK. Pound-force is the US and UK's official unit for force or weight due to gravity.

Anyone who frequents the forum knows DaveC know what mass and weight are.
When did this happen? Back when I was in school (fighting off the dinosaurs with my abacus) "pound" was a unit of weight and so force.

HallsofIvy
Homework Helper
So, what is a pound equal to at the top of Mt. Everest, or on the Moon?
Assuming that we are now talking about "pound" as a measure of mass, one pound, of course!

If, on the other hand, we are talking about "pound" as a measure of weight (force) (the "real" definition to us geezers), its equivalence in grams (a measure of force) would be
1) 454 grams times (acceleration due to gravity at the top of Mt. Everest/acceleration due to gravity as sea level)

2) 454 grams times (acceleration due to gravity on the moon/acceleration due to gravity as sea level on the earthj)

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Metric system rules!!!

FredGarvin
Just to throw gas on the fire, there is a kg-force unit. I rarely see it, but it is around.

I have had to work with a lot of old calculations from quite a few years ago. It gets extremely confusing when the Lb unit is thrown in for both mass and force. I always add the modifier Lbm or Lbf. It was a definite shortcut for older types because they were interchangeable for 99% of the calculations you faced. Sometimes I will convert a problem over to metric just to make sure I haven't missed anything.

The other maddening part is that there may be an accepted mass unit (slug) but no one seems to stick to it. Not, at least, in papers and such that I read.

The (old) official unit of mass in the imperial system is/was the Slug. Pounds are units of force. So yes, there is a real difference between pounds and Kilograms.
pound
–noun, plural pounds, (collectively) pound.
1. a unit of weight and of mass, varying in different periods and countries.

Integral
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
pound
–noun, plural pounds, (collectively) pound.
1. a unit of weight and of mass, varying in different periods and countries.
For the most part standard dictionary definitions are held in pretty low regard when discussing physics terminology. You need to look in a physics text to get the formal definitions.

D H
Staff Emeritus
Pounds are units of mass, force, and money. At one point in time, a one pound mass of silver subject to one standard gravity exerted a force of one pound and was worth one pound sterling. A nice, consistent set of units, no?

In the US, the term pound without any qualifier refers to the avoirdupois pound, a unit of mass. One pound (avoirdupois) is 0.45359237 kilograms, exactly (whether one is on the surface of the Moon or the surface of the Earth). There are other pounds that are also units of mass. For example, in the apothecaries' system, there are 20 grains per scruple, 3 scruples per dram, 8 drams per ounce, and 12 ounces per pound. This system makes much more sense than the avoirdupois system, which has 27.34375 drams per grain, 16 grains per ounce, and 16 ounces per pound. :yuck: (There is no tongue-in cheek smiley, so I used yuck instead.)

A pound is also a unit of force. To avoid confusion, the pound-force is abbreviated lbf. One pound (force) is 4.4482216152605 Newtons, exactly (whether one is on the surface of the Moon or the surface of the Earth). Of course, one pound-force is 16 ounces-fource.

Confused? Read again after taking a few drams of whiskey for mental clarity. (Note that drams are also an English unit of volume, used specifically for measuring Scottish whiskey).

Why? What is that formula saying?
Do you not get what i'm saying?? On the moon 2.7 kilograms is equal to one pound. All that formula is is newtons law of gravitation. I would think you would know that formula but to make sure you do i'll explain. The formula is-
G*m*m/r^2=f
G = gravitational constant (6.67e-11)
m = mass in kg
r = distance in meters.
f=force in newtons

All that link is saying is that a mass of 2.7 kilograms on the moon is equal to a pound.

D H
Staff Emeritus
All that link is saying is that a mass of 2.7 kilograms on the moon is equal to a pound.
Not quite right. Read the results. It says 0.987 pounds force, not pounds. Pounds are units of mass, not weight.

The Google calculator http://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&safe=off&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7GGLR&q=2.7+kilograms+in+pounds&btnG=Search" knows the difference between pounds (unit of mass) and pounds force (unit of force). 2.7 kilograms is 5.95 pounds, whether you are on the Earth, the Moon, or Jupiter.

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D H
Staff Emeritus
The National Institute of Standards and Technology are the official US standard bearers regarding the definition of English system as implemented in the US. The pound (avoirdupois) has been defined as 0.45359237 kilograms, exactly, since 1959. This is the International Pound, the same pound used by other English-speaking nations. See http://www.ngs.noaa.gov/PUBS_LIB/FedRegister/FRdoc59-5442.pdf" for details.

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Gold Member
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D H
Staff Emeritus
Maybe I can finally forget all of this head-pounding silliness: http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov/displayDir.cfm?t=NPD&c=8010&s=2D"
All new programs and projects shall use the SI system of measurement in preference to customary U.S. measurement units, including related NASA procurements, grants, and business activities, except where the cognizant Program Manager or Headquarters Official-in-Charge determines that use of SI units is impractical, adds unacceptable risk, or is likely to cause significant inefficiencies or loss of markets to U.S. firms. Special emphasis shall be placed on maximum use of SI units in international cooperative programs.

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He is saying that since the moon's gravity is roughly 1/6 of earths, one pound-force on earth would be the weight of 1 kilogram on the moon.

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PhanthomJay