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Unit system metric
Unit of length
1 km in ...... is equal to ...
    SI units    1000  m
    imperial/US  units   0.62137  mi
3280.8  ft
   nautical units   0.53996  nmi

The kilometre (SI symbol: km; /ˈkɪləmtər/ or /kɪˈlɒmɪtər/ ), spelt kilometer in American English, is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one thousand metres (kilo- being the SI prefix for 1000). It is now the measurement unit used for expressing distances between geographical places on land in most of the world; notable exceptions are the United States and the United Kingdom where the statute mile is the unit used.


The abbreviations k or K (pronounced /k/ ) are commonly used to represent kilometre, but are not recommended by the BIPM. [1] [2] A slang term for the kilometre in the US and UK militaries is klick . [3] [4]


There are two common pronunciations for the word. [5]

The former follows a pattern in English whereby metric units are pronounced with the stress on the first syllable (as in kilogram, kilojoule and kilohertz) and the pronunciation of the actual base unit does not change irrespective of the prefix (as in centimetre, millimetre, nanometre and so on). It is generally preferred by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).[ citation needed ]

Many scientists and other users, particularly in countries where the metric system is not widely used, use the pronunciation with stress on the second syllable. [6] [7] The latter pronunciation follows the stress pattern used for the names of measuring instruments (such as micrometer, barometer, thermometer, tachometer and speedometer). The contrast is even more obvious in countries using the Commonwealth spelling rather than American spelling of the word metre.

When Australia introduced the metric system in 1975, the first pronunciation was declared official by the government's Metric Conversion Board. However, the Australian prime minister at the time, Gough Whitlam, insisted that the second pronunciation was the correct one because of the Greek origins of the two parts of the word. [8]

Equivalence to other units of length

1 kilometre1000 metres
3281 feet
1094 yards
0.621 miles
0.540 nautical miles
6.68×10−9 astronomical units [9]
1.06×10−13 light-years [10]
3.24×10−14 parsecs


Historical divisions of the meridian in France Division of the meridien.PNG
Historical divisions of the meridian in France

By a decree of 8 May 1790, the Constituent assembly ordered the French Academy of Sciences to develop a new measurement system. In August 1793, the French National Convention decreed the metre as the sole length measurement system in the French Republic. The first name of the kilometre was "Millaire". Although the metre was formally defined in 1799, the myriametre (10000 metres) was preferred to the "kilometre" for everyday use. The term "myriamètre" appeared a number of times in the text of Develey's book Physique d'Emile: ou, Principes de la science de la nature, [11] (published in 1802), while the term kilometre only appeared in an appendix. French maps published in 1835 had scales showing myriametres and "lieues de Poste" (Postal leagues of about 4288 metres). [12]

The Dutch, on the other hand, adopted the kilometre in 1817 but gave it the local name of the mijl. [13] It was only in 1867 that the term "kilometer" became the only official unit of measure in the Netherlands to represent 1000 metres. [14]

Two German textbooks dated 1842 [15] [16] and 1848 [17] respectively give a snapshot of the use of the kilometre across Europe: the kilometre was in use in the Netherlands and in Italy, and the myriametre was in use in France.

In 1935, the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) officially abolished the prefix "myria-" and with it the "myriametre", leaving the kilometre as the recognised unit of length for measurements of that magnitude. [18]

Kilometre records

Some sporting disciplines feature 1000 m (one-kilometre) races in major events (such as the Olympic Games). In some disciplines—although world records are catalogued—one-kilometre events remain a minority.

Kilometre world records (for various sporting disciplines):

DisciplineNameTime (min:s)LocationDateComments
Running (M) Noah Ngeny 2:11.96 [19] Rieti, Italy 5 Sep 1999Not an Olympic event
Running (F) Svetlana Masterkova 2:28.98 [20] Brussels 23 Aug 1996Not an Olympic event
Speed Skating (M) Shani Davis 1:06.42 [21] Salt Lake City 7 Mar 2009
Speed Skating (F) Cindy Klassen 1:13.11 [21] Calgary 25 Mar 2006
Cycling (M)Arnaud Tourant58.875 [22] La Paz, Bolivia 10 Oct 2001No official 1000 m women's record

See also

Notes and references

  1. "Kilometre". Oxford Learner's Dictionaries. Retrieved 1 November 2019.}
  2. "The International System of Units (SI)" (PDF). International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). 2019. pp. 147–149. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  3. "MARINE CORPS JARGON" (PDF). Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  4. Rod Powers. "How Far is a 'Klick' in the Military?". Archived from the original on 17 February 2006. Retrieved 13 April 2010.
  5. Jones, Daniel (2003) [1917], Peter Roach; James Hartmann; Jane Setter (eds.), English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN   3-12-539683-2
  6. White, Roland (23 March 2008). "Correct pronunciation on the radio". The Times. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  7. "Kilometer - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  8. "damage lessons". Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  9. One astronomical unit is currently accepted to be equal to 149597870691±30 m.
  10. A light-year is equal to 9.4607304725808×1012 km the distance light travels through vacuum in one year (365.25 days).
  11. Develey, Emmanuel (1802). Physique d'Emile: ou, Principes de la science de la nature. 1. Paris.
  12. Map of the department of Hautes Pyrénées (Map). France Pittoresque (in French). Laguillermie et Rambos. 1835. Retrieved 21 September 2012.
  13. Jacob de Gelder (1824). Allereerste Gronden der Cijferkunst [Introduction to Numeracy] (in Dutch). 's-Gravenhage and Amsterdam: de Gebroeders van Cleef. pp.  155–156. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
  14. "[News from] Nederland" (PDF). De Locomotief. Nieuws, handels en Advertentie-blad. 12 August 1869. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 February 2017.
  15. "Amtliche Maßeinheiten in Europa 1842" [Official units of measure in Europe 1842] (in German). Retrieved 26 March 2011Text version of Malaisé's book
  16. Ferdinand Malaisé (1842). Theoretisch-practischer Unterricht im Rechnen [Theoretical and practical instruction in arithmetic] (in German). München. pp. 307–322. Retrieved 26 March 2011.
  17. Mozhnik, Franz (1848). Lehrbuch des gesammten Rechnens für die vierte Classe der Hauptschulen in den k.k. Staaten [Arithmetic textbook for the fourth class in the [Austrian] Imperial and [Hungarian] Royal states] (in German). Vienna: Im Verlage der k.k. Schulbücher Verschleiß-Administration. Das Wegmaß. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  18. McGreevy, Thomas (1997). Cunningham, Peter (ed.). The Basis of Measurement - Volume 2 - Metrication and Current Practice. Picton. ISBN   0-948251-84-0.
  19. "Men's World Records". Track and Field. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  20. "Women's World Records". Track and Field. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  21. 1 2 "Speed Skating: Complete history list of World Records recognized by ISU" (PDF). International Skating Union. 7 March 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  22. "Track Records". Union Cycliste Internationale. Archived from the original on 26 November 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2011.

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