Distance and displacement

Understanding distance and displacement

In one way or the other humans move from one place to the other, this form of movement is also applicable to any sort of object. Today we will be discussing the definition, formula, differences, and examples of distance and displacement.

Distance and displacement


What is a distance?

A distance can be defined as the total movement of an object with no regard to direction. We can also say distance is the amount of ground an object has covered from its starting point to its final destination. A distance can also be seen as a scalar quantity, that is, the distance of an object does not depend on the direction of its motion. It is the complete path traveled by an object. We can use the below formula to calculate distance:

Distance[d] = Speed[s] x Time[t]

Read more: The Three Newton’s laws of motion

What is displacement?

Displacement simply refers to the change in position of a particular object. For instance, an object moves from point A to point B, through that process displacement has occurred. Displacement represents a vector quantity and it has both magnitude and direction. The below formula can be used to calculate displacement

Displacement[s] = velocity[v] x Time[t]

Differences Between Distance and Displacement

The table below will show us the differences between distance and displacement:



Distance is the total movement of an object with no regard to direction.Displacement is the change in the position of an object.


It doesn’t decrease with time.It may decrease with time in some cases.


It is a scalar quantity; it has a magnitude but no direction.It is a vector quantity; it has both magnitude and direction


SI unit is meter[m]SI unit is meter[m]

Read more: Relationship between Force and Motion

To know the difference between distance and displacement, you should understand the definition which has been stated above. Also, you should understand that a vector quantity such as displacement is direction-aware and scalar quantity such as distance is ignorant of direction. That is if an object changes its direction of motion, displacement record the change; moving to the opposite direction effectively begins to cancel the displacement that was once recorded.

Watch the video below to learn more on distance and displacement:

Read more: How Force changes the State of Motion

Examples and calculations

A good example of distance and displacement, since displacement is a vector quantity, which is the object’s overall change in position. Let say an object moves from 4meter east, 2meter south, 4meter west, and 2meter north.

distance and displacement calculations

The total distance in which the object moved is 12meters, [distance=12] the displacement in the motion of the object. So, [displacement=0], this is because displacement must give attention to direction.

it is a vector quantity, so, the 4meter east eliminates the 4meter west and the 2meter south

Cancel the 2meter north.

Another good example of distance and displacement can be seen in the position of a person that moves from point A to B to C to D. to determine the displacement and the distance traveled by the person

In three minutes.

The person covers a distance of;

Distance from A – B = 180m

B – C = 140m

C – D = 100M

So, the distance the person covered is [180140100] = 420m

The displacement will be 140m.

Read more: Understanding buoyancy

Mr. John travels 290 miles north then back-tracks to the south for 105 miles to pick yogurt in the grocery store. What is Mr. John’s total displacement?


 Mr. John starting point Xi = 0

His final position XF is the distance travelled N minus the distance south

Calculating displacement, i.e., ‘’d’’

D =X = [XF  Xi]

D = [290 mi N  105 mi N]0

D = 185 min.

Read more: Forms of energy: kinetic and potential energy

That is all for this article, where the definition, formula, differences, and examples of distance and displacement are being discussed. I hope you got a lot from the reading, if so, kindly share with other students. Thanks for reading, see you around.


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