Scalars & Vectors

Scalars are quantities with a magnitude (size) only. Vectors have a magnitude (size) and a direction.

Speed vs Velocity

  • Speed is a scalar.

    • Speed describes how fast something is travelling but says nothing about direction.
  • Velocity is a vector.

    • Velocity describes how fast something is going and in what direction.

Distance vs Displacement

  • Distance is a scalar.

    • Distance describes how far something has travelled.
  • Displacement is a vector.

    • Displacement describes the distance from one place to another.
    • Displacement also describes the direction from the start to the end.
  • E.g. If an ant travels 6 metres east then 2 metres west:

    • Distance = 8 metres.
    • Displacement = 4 metres east.


  • Mass is a scalar.

    • Mass describes how much of something there is.
    • Mass has no direction.


  • Acceleration is a vector

    • We must know the magnitude (how quickly something is speeding up) and the direction (in which direction it is speeding up).


  • Force is a vector.

    • We need to know the magnitude (size) of the force and also the direction it acts.
  • Weight is an example of a force and so weight is a vector.

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