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  1. Plural of meter


  1. third-person singular of meter

Extensive Definition

This article is about the unit of length. For other uses of metre or meter, see meter (disambiguation).
The metre or meter is a measure of length. It is the basic unit of length in the metric system and in the International System of Units (SI), used around the world for general and scientific purposes. Historically, the metre was defined by the French Academy of Sciences as the length between two marks on a platinum-iridium bar, which was designed to represent of the distance from the equator to the north pole through Paris. Today, it is defined by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures as the distance travelled by light in absolute vacuum in of a second.
The symbol for metre is m (never capital M). Decimal multiples and submultiples of the metre, such as kilometre (1000 metres) and centimetre ( metre), are indicated by adding SI prefixes to metre (see table below).


The word metre is from the Greek metron (), "a measure" via the French mètre. Its first recorded usage in English meaning this unit of length is from 1797.

Meridional definition

In the eighteenth century, there were two favoured approaches to the definition of the standard unit of length. One approach suggested defining the metre as the length of a pendulum with a half-period of one second. The other approach suggested defining the metre as one ten-millionth of the length of the Earth's meridian along a quadrant, that is the distance from the equator to the north pole. In 1791, the French Academy of Sciences selected the meridional definition over the pendular definition because the force of gravity varies slightly over the surface of the Earth, which affects the period of a pendulum.
In order to establish a universally accepted foundation for the definition of the metre, measurements of this meridian more accurate than those available at that time were imperative. The Bureau des Longitudes commissioned an expedition led by Delambre and Pierre Méchain, lasting from 1792 to 1799, which measured the length of the meridian between Dunkerque and Barcelona. This portion of the meridian, which also passes through Paris, was to serve as the basis for the length of the half meridian, connecting the North Pole with the Equator.
However, in 1793, France adopted as its official unit of length a metre based on provisional results from the expedition as its official unit of length. Although it was later determined that the first prototype metre bar was short by a fifth of a millimetre due to miscalculation of the flattening of the Earth, this length became the standard. The circumference of the Earth through the poles is therefore slightly more than forty million metres.

Prototype metre bar

In the 1870s and in light of modern precision, a series of international conferences were held to devise new metric standards. The Metre Convention (Convention du Mètre) of 1875 mandated the establishment of a permanent International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM: Bureau International des Poids et Mesures) to be located in Sèvres, France. This new organisation would preserve the new prototype metre and kilogram standards when constructed, distribute national metric prototypes, and maintain comparisons between them and non-metric measurement standards. The organization created a new prototype bar in 1889 at the first General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM: Conférence Générale des Poids et Mesures), establishing the International Prototype Metre as the distance between two lines on a standard bar composed of an alloy of ninety percent platinum and ten percent iridium, measured at the melting point of ice.

Standard wavelength of krypton-86 emission

In 1893, the standard metre was first measured with an interferometer by Albert A. Michelson, the inventor of the device and an advocate of using some particular wavelength of light as a standard of distance. By 1925, interferometry was in regular use at the BIPM. However, the International Prototype Metre remained the standard until 1960, when the eleventh CGPM defined the metre in the new SI system as equal to 1,650,763.73 wavelengths of the orange-red emission line in the electromagnetic spectrum of the krypton-86 atom in a vacuum. The original international prototype of the metre is still kept at the BIPM under the conditions specified in 1889.

Standard wavelength of helium-neon laser light

To further reduce uncertainty, the seventeenth CGPM in 1983 replaced the definition of the metre with its current definition, thus fixing the length of the metre in terms of time and the speed of light:
The metre is the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299 792 458 of a second.
Note that this definition had the effect of fixing the speed of light in a vacuum at precisely 299,792,458 metres per second. Although the metre is now defined in terms of time-of-flight, actual laboratory realisations of the metre are still delineated by counting the required number of wavelengths of light along the distance. An intended byproduct of the 17th CGPM’s definition was that it enabled scientists to measure the wavelength of their lasers with one-fifth the uncertainty. To further facilitate reproducibility from lab to lab, the 17th CGPM also made the iodine-stabilised helium-neon laser “a recommended radiation” for realising the metre. For purposes of delineating the metre, the BIPM currently considers the HeNe laser wavelength to be as follows: λHeNe = 632.99139822 nm with an estimated relative standard uncertainty (U) of 2.5 × 10–11. This uncertainty is currently the limiting factor in laboratory realisations of the metre as it is several orders of magnitude poorer than that of the second (U = 5 × 10–16). Consequently, a practical realisation of the metre is usually delineated (not defined) today in labs as 1,579,800.298728(39) wavelengths of helium-neon laser light in a vacuum.

Timeline of definition

  • 1791 March 30 — The French National Assembly accepts the proposal by the French Academy of Sciences that the new definition for the metre be equal to one ten-millionth of the length of the Earth's meridian along a quadrant through Paris, that is the distance from the equator to the north pole.
  • 1795 — Provisional metre bar constructed of brass.
  • 1799 December 10 — The French National Assembly specifies the platinum metre bar, constructed on 23 June 1799 and deposited in the National Archives, as the final standard.
  • 1927 October 6 — The seventh CGPM adjusts the definition of the length to be the distance, at 0 °C, between the axes of the two central lines marked on the prototype bar of platinum-iridium, this bar being subject to one standard atmosphere of pressure and supported on two cylinders of at least one centimetre diameter, symmetrically placed in the same horizontal plane at a distance of 571 millimetres from each other.
  • 1960 October 20 — The eleventh CGPM defines the length to be equal to 1,650,763.73 wavelengths in vacuum of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the 2p10 and 5d5 quantum levels of the krypton-86 atom.
  • 1983 October 21 — The seventeenth CGPM defines the length as equal to the distance travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of of a second.

SI prefixed forms of metre

SI prefixes are often employed to denote decimal multiples and submultiples of the metre, as shown in the table below.

Equivalents in other units

Within this table, "inch" means "international inch".

See also



meters in Afrikaans: Meter
meters in Tosk Albanian: Meter
meters in Arabic: متر
meters in Asturian: Metru
meters in Bengali: মিটার
meters in Min Nan: Kong-chhioh
meters in Belarusian: Метр
meters in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Мэтар
meters in Bosnian: Metar
meters in Breton: Metr
meters in Bulgarian: Метър
meters in Catalan: Metre
meters in Czech: Metr
meters in Welsh: Metr
meters in Danish: Meter
meters in German: Meter
meters in Dhivehi: މީޓަރު
meters in Estonian: Meeter
meters in Modern Greek (1453-): Μέτρο (μονάδα μήκους)
meters in Spanish: Metro
meters in Esperanto: Metro
meters in Basque: Metro
meters in Persian: متر
meters in French: Mètre
meters in Friulian: Metri
meters in Irish: Méadar
meters in Gan Chinese: 米
meters in Galician: Metro
meters in Korean: 미터
meters in Croatian: Metar
meters in Bishnupriya: মিটার
meters in Indonesian: Meter
meters in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Metro
meters in Icelandic: Metri
meters in Italian: Metro
meters in Hebrew: מטר
meters in Javanese: Meter
meters in Kannada: ಮೀಟರ್
meters in Georgian: მეტრი
meters in Kazakh: Метр
meters in Swahili (macrolanguage): Mita
meters in Kurdish: Mitir
meters in Lao: ແມັດ
meters in Latin: Metrum
meters in Latvian: Metrs
meters in Luxembourgish: Meter
meters in Lithuanian: Metras
meters in Hungarian: Méter
meters in Macedonian: Метар
meters in Maltese: Metru
meters in Marathi: मीटर
meters in Malay (macrolanguage): Meter
meters in Mongolian: Метр
meters in Dutch: Meter
meters in Japanese: メートル
meters in Norwegian: Meter
meters in Norwegian Nynorsk: Meter
meters in Narom: Mète
meters in Occitan (post 1500): Mètre
meters in Low German: Meter
meters in Polish: Metr
meters in Portuguese: Metro
meters in Kölsch: Läng
meters in Romanian: Metru
meters in Quechua: Mitru
meters in Russian: Метр
meters in Scots: Metre
meters in Albanian: Metri
meters in Simple English: Metre
meters in Silesian: Meter
meters in Church Slavic: Метро
meters in Slovenian: Meter
meters in Serbian: Метар
meters in Serbo-Croatian: Metar
meters in Sundanese: Méter
meters in Finnish: Metri
meters in Swedish: Meter
meters in Tagalog: Metro
meters in Tamil: மீட்டர்
meters in Telugu: మీటరు
meters in Thai: เมตร
meters in Vietnamese: Mét
meters in Tajik: Метр
meters in Turkish: Metre
meters in Ukrainian: Метр
meters in Urdu: میٹر (پیمائش)
meters in Venetian: Metro
meters in Vlaams: Meter (lengtemoate)
meters in Yiddish: מעטער
meters in Contenese: 米
meters in Samogitian: Metros
meters in Chinese: 米 (单位)
meters in Slovak: Meter
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