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Distance Vs Displacement: What's The Difference?

Published October 17, 2021

It is important to know the difference between Distance and Displacement. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they actually mean two different things! Let's take a look at each of them so you can understand their meaning.

The main difference between Distance and Displacement is that Distance refers to the path covered by an object, while displacement refers to how far it has been moved from its original position.

Distance = Path taken  by an Object

Displacement = How Far It Has Been Moved From Original Position

The two words are often confused with each other, but they have different meanings.

What is Distance?

The distance can be defined as how far apart two objects are from each other. To understand what Distance is, let's look at an example of the word being used in a sentence. "The distance between these two houses is about 400 feet." In this example, Distance means how far apart the houses are from each other on the surface of the earth. Calculating Distance helps us understand how far apart two points are.

What is Displacement?

Displacement can be defined as the movement or change in position from one place to another. To understand what Displacement is, let's look at an example of the word being used in a sentence. "The man was displaced by the hurricane." In this case, the man moved from one location to another due to the hurricane. Displacement is used when describing how an object moves or changes its position.

In conclusion, Distance refers to the length of a straight line that passes through any point on the surface of an object while Displacement refers to movement or change in position from one place to another. The use of this term will often occur when speaking about the movement of an object with a constant velocity.

Differences Between Distance & Displacement

The difference in Formulas

  • Distance Formula: d = r * t
  • Displacement formula: s = u * t 

Where: d = distance, r = rate of travel (speed), t = time taken to complete the path or displacement s  = initial position, u = velocity and t = time taken to move from original position.

Difference in Interchangeability

You cannot interchange the words "distance" and "displacement." They mean two different things. While both may refer to a path covered by an object or how far it has been moved from its original position; they are used differently depending on their context, with 'Distance' meaning as though you were measuring surface length (such as within Earth) whereas 'Displacement' means movement regardless of the distance traveled ('displaced' meaning to be pushed out of your location).

The difference in general usage

Generally speaking, you will hear 'distance' more often used in reference to physical length and area, while displacement is most commonly associated with an object being moved from one location or position into another.

Difference in Path

A key thing to note is the fact that distance is completely dependent on the path while displacement is non-dependent. For example, if you were to travel in a straight line it would be easier to calculate your distance, but displacement is not dependent on the path taken.

Displacement just means that an object has moved from its original position to somewhere else. If one were to simply move their glass across the table, this would qualify as displacement since they did not have to follow any specific course or trajectory outside of moving it away from where it originally was located on said table. In short: Distance = Path taken by an object, Displacement = How far an object is moved from its original position.

Comparison Chart: Distance Vs Displacement

ParametersDistanceDisplacement
QuantityScalarVector
Path-dependentYesNo
Can be negativeNoYes
Can be zeroNoYes
Denoted byds
Formulad= r x ts= u x t
Common UsageMoreLess

Similarities between Distance & Displacement

Both Distance and Displacement refer to the path taken by an object. The similarities lie in the fact that Distance and Displacement both refer to a path taken by an object. They are used in different contexts, but they serve as two words for essentially the same idea. Another striking similarity is the fact that both use the same unit of measurement which is metres.

FAQs

Which term is more commonly used and why?

Both terms are used interchangeably however 'Distance' is more commonly used when speaking about physical length and area, while displacement is most associated with an object being moved from one location or position into another.

When do you use each term?

You would use Distance in reference to a path covered by an object that has constant velocity whereas Displacement is used when describing how objects move or change their position.

Is "Displacement" interchangeable with the word Distance?

No, 'distance' and displacement are not interchangeable as they mean two different things. While both may refer to a path covered by an object or how far it has been moved from its original position. They are used differently depending on their context, with 'distance' meaning as though you were measuring surface length (such as within Earth) whereas displacement means movement regardless of the distance traveled.

What is a similar term to "Distance" and why?

A similar word would be path because both words refer to an object's course or trajectory while moving.

What is a similar term to "Displacement" and why?

A similar word would be moved because both words describe how far an object has been changed from its original position.

Conclusion

Both terms have their own definition but they shouldn't be confused with each other because there's a difference between distance and displacement. The main difference between these two words is that "Distance" refers to the surface length on any point of an object, while "Displacement" means movement regardless of how far it traveled. Usually, when you hear someone say either word, they're referring to physical length or movement.

References

Feel free to comment and discuss about the article in the comment space below if you have any information or remarks to add. If you think we made a mistake, you can also report it there.
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About the Author: Nicolas Seignette

Nicolas Seignette, who holds a scientific baccalaureate, began his studies in mathematics and computer science applied to human and social sciences (MIASHS). He then continued his university studies with a DEUST WMI (Webmaster and Internet professions) at the University of Limoges before finishing his course with a professional license specialized in the IT professions. On 10Differences, he is in charge of the research and the writing of the articles concerning technology, sciences and mathematics.
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