Difference Between Distance vs Displacement

Difference Between Distance vs Displacement

When you set out on a trip, you are most likely to want to follow the fastest route to your destination. This will save you fuel, time, and energy that you would have spent if you had taken a longer route. The length of area you cover can be referred to in a couple of different ways depending on a number of factors that we will examine to show the difference between displacement and distance.

This is a common concept in basic physics and even in our day-to-day lives. Understanding these two terms will help you see length from a more accurate point of view.

Definition of Distance

Distance is defined as the length of space between two points following the paths that link them. It is defined by the magnitude alone, which makes it a scalar quantity. While measuring, you are only concerned with the area covered by an object that has moved from a specified position A to another specified position B. In other words, the direction taken by the object in the course of the travel is not taken into consideration.

Usually, this term is denoted by the letter “D,” and the formula for finding this quantity is as follows.

  • D = speed × time

Here, speed is the rate at which the object moves, and time is the measure of existence and events in the past, present, and future.

Another difference between distance and displacement is that in this case, the possible value can only have a positive value unlike in the other case, which we will discuss in the next section, where the possible value can be zero, positive, or negative. The length in the case of distance can either be a straight or non-straight path depending on whether there is a change of course or not.

Definition of Displacement

Displacement is defined as the length between two points following the shortest path that links them. It is defined as a vector quantity that takes into consideration both the magnitude and direction of the quantity. When measuring the value, the focus is on the shortest distance from one point to another. This means that the direction taken in the course of moving from one destination to another matters a lot.

This quantity is denoted by the letter “S,” and here is the formula for finding this quantity.

  • S = velocity × time

Velocity is the rate of motion, speed, or action at any given time in a particular direction, and time is the measure of existence and events in the past, present, and future.

When comparing distance vs displacement, it is obvious that the observer would not get a detailed description of the path followed by the body. In a graphical representation, it is denoted by an arrow and can only be measured in a straight path.

Main Differences Between Distance vs Displacement

For ease of understanding these concepts and their characteristics, we have highlighted the results of comparing displacement vs distance in the table below.

Basis of ComparisonDistanceDisplacement
DefinitionThe length of space between two points following the path that links themThe length between two points following the shortest path that links them
QuantityScalarVector
ValueOnly positive valuesValues can be positive, negative, and zero
Uniqueness of path takenPath not uniqueUnique path
DenotedDS
Formulaspeed × timevelocity × time

Difference Between Distance and Displacement: Conclusion

It is understandable why people may incorrectly think these two quantities are the same. They are both used in the measurement of lengths between two points. The basic difference is that distance is concerned with the total area covered when taking the action, while displacement is concerned with the shortest route possible from the starting point to another.

The former can be measured following a path that is not straight, which does not really matter as long as it leads to the expected destination. This is not the case with the latter, where the utmost concern is in the shortest route from a starting point to another point. The former can only have positive values, while the latter can have positive, negative, and even zero values.