# Displacement vs. Distance — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on May 8, 2024
Displacement measures the shortest path between start and end points in a straight line, focusing on direction, while distance measures the total path length traveled, regardless of direction.

## Key Differences

Displacement is a vector quantity that refers to how far out of place an object is; it's the object's overall change in position. Conversely, distance is a scalar quantity which measures how much ground an object has covered during its motion.
Displacement can be zero if the start and end points are the same, regardless of the path taken, whereas distance is always a non-negative value that increases as the object moves.
For example, if you walk around a track and finish at your starting point, your displacement is zero but your distance is the circumference of the track.
Displacement considers direction as part of its measurement, which can be positive, negative, or zero, while distance only considers the magnitude of travel without any directional component. In physics, understanding both concepts is crucial as they relate differently to other kinematic variables like speed and velocity.

## Comparison Chart

### Type of Quantity

Vector (has magnitude and direction)
Scalar (has only magnitude)

### Measurement

Straight line path from start to end point
Total path length traveled

### Direction Dependency

Dependent; indicates direction from start point
Independent; no directional component

### Zero Value Scenario

Can be zero if start and end points are same
Never zero; minimum value is the start of movement

### Example Usage

Used in physics to calculate velocity
Used to determine how far an object has traveled

## Compare with Definitions

#### Displacement

In physics, displacement relates to vector quantities like velocity.
The object's displacement directly affects its velocity calculation.

#### Distance

Distance is always a positive value.
The distance between two cities is always stated in positive numbers.

#### Displacement

Displacement can be negative if it moves in the opposite direction.
The displacement was -3 meters, indicating movement backwards.

#### Distance

It does not account for the direction, just the length of the path.
The winding path increased the total distance traveled.

#### Displacement

Displacement refers to the change in position of an object.
The displacement of the car was 5 kilometers north.

#### Distance

Distance measures the total path traveled by an object.
He ran a distance of 10 kilometers this morning.

#### Displacement

It considers the direction from the initial to the final position.
The displacement vector points directly east.

#### Distance

It accumulates over a journey, no matter the direction.
The total travel distance was much greater due to detours.

#### Displacement

It can be zero if the object returns to its original position.
Despite the long journey, the displacement was zero.

#### Distance

In everyday use, distance is how far two points are from each other on a map.
The map shows the distance as 15 miles.

#### Displacement

The act of displacing.

#### Distance

Distance is a numerical measurement of how far apart objects or points are. In physics or everyday usage, distance may refer to a physical length or an estimation based on other criteria (e.g.

#### Displacement

The condition of having been displaced.

#### Distance

The length of the space between two points
You may have to walk long distances
I cycled the short distance home

#### Displacement

(Chemistry) A reaction in which an atom, radical, ion, or molecule replaces another in a compound.

#### Distance

The full length of a race
He claimed the 100 m title in only his second race over the distance

#### Displacement

A vector or the magnitude of a vector from the initial position to a subsequent position assumed by a body.

#### Distance

The avoidance of familiarity; reserve
A mix of warmth and distance makes a good neighbour

#### Displacement

The weight or volume of a fluid displaced by a floating body, used especially as a measurement of the weight or bulk of ships.

#### Distance

Make (someone or something) far off or remote in position or nature
Her mother wished to distance her from the rough village children

#### Displacement

The volume displaced by a single stroke of a piston in an engine or pump.

#### Distance

Beat (a horse) by a distance.

#### Displacement

The relative movement between the two sides of a fault.

#### Distance

The extent of space between two objects or places; an intervening space.

#### Displacement

The distance between the two sides of a fault. Also called dislocation.

#### Distance

The fact or condition of being apart in space; remoteness.

#### Displacement

(Psychiatry) A psychological defense mechanism in which there is an unconscious shift of emotions, affect, or desires from the original object to a more acceptable or immediate substitute.

#### Distance

(Mathematics) The length or numerical value of a straight line or curve.

#### Displacement

The act of displacing, or the state of being displaced; a putting out of place.

#### Distance

The extent of space between points on a measured course.

#### Displacement

The quantity of a liquid displaced by a floating body, as water by a ship, the weight of the displaced liquid being equal to that of the displacing body.

#### Distance

The length of a race, especially of a horserace.

#### Displacement

(chemistry) The process of extracting soluble substances from organic material and the like, whereby a quantity of saturated solvent is displaced, or removed, for another quantity of the solvent.

#### Distance

A point or area that is far away
"Telephone poles stretched way into a distance I couldn't quite see" (Leigh Allison Wilson).

#### Displacement

(fencing) Moving the target to avoid an attack; dodging.

#### Distance

A depiction of a such a point or area.

#### Displacement

(physics) A vector quantity which denotes distance with a directional component.

#### Distance

A stretch of space without designation of limit; an expanse
A land of few hills and great distances.

#### Displacement

(grammar) The capability of a communication system to refer to things that are not present (that existed or will exist at another time, or that exist at another location).

#### Distance

The extent of time between two events; an intervening period.

#### Displacement

The act of displacing, or the state of being displaced; a putting out of place.
Unnecessary displacement of funds.
The displacement of the sun by parallax.

#### Distance

A point removed in time
At a distance of 11 years, his memory of the crime was blurry.

#### Displacement

The quantity of anything, as water, displaced by a floating body, as by a ship, the weight of the displaced liquid being equal to that of the displacing body.

#### Distance

The full period or length of a contest or game
The challenger had never attempted the distance of 12 rounds.

#### Displacement

The process of extracting soluble substances from organic material and the like, whereby a quantity of saturated solvent is displaced, or removed, for another quantity of the solvent.

#### Distance

An amount of progress
The curriculum committee is a distance from where it was last month.

#### Displacement

An event in which something is displaced without rotation

#### Distance

Difference or disagreement
The candidates could not be at a greater distance on this issue.

#### Displacement

Act of taking the place of another especially using underhanded tactics

#### Distance

Emotional separateness or reserve; aloofness.

#### Displacement

The act of uniform movement

#### Distance

To place or keep at or as if at a distance
"monks who had distanced themselves from the official ecclesiastical hierarchy by resurrecting the ascetic traditions of the early Church Fathers" (Rosamund Bartlett).

#### Displacement

(chemistry) a reaction in which an elementary substance displaces and sets free a constituent element from a compound

#### Distance

To cause to appear at a distance.

#### Displacement

(psychiatry) a defense mechanism that transfers affect or reaction from the original object to some more acceptable one

#### Distance

To leave far behind; outrun.

#### Displacement

To move something from its natural environment

#### Distance

(countable) The amount of space between two points, usually geographical points, usually (but not necessarily) measured along a straight line.
The distance to Petersborough is thirty miles.
From Moscow, the distance is relatively short to Saint Petersburg, relatively long to Novosibirsk, but even greater to Vladivostok.

#### Displacement

Act of removing from office or employment

#### Distance

Length or interval of time.

#### Distance

The difference; the subjective measure between two quantities.
We're narrowing the distance between the two versions of the bill.
The distance between the lowest and next gear on my bicycle is annoying.

#### Distance

Remoteness of place; a remote place.

#### Distance

Remoteness in succession or relation.
The distance between a descendant and his ancestor

#### Distance

A space marked out in the last part of a racecourse.

#### Distance

The entire amount of progress to an objective.
He had promised to perform this task, but did not go the distance.

#### Distance

A withholding of intimacy; alienation; variance.
The friendship did not survive the row: they kept each other at a distance.

#### Distance

The remoteness or reserve which respect requires; hence, respect; ceremoniousness.

#### Distance

The space measured back from the winning-post which a racehorse running in a heat must reach when the winner has covered the whole course, in order to run in the final heat.

#### Distance

(transitive) To move away (from) someone or something.
He distanced himself from the comments made by some of his colleagues.

#### Distance

(transitive) To leave at a distance; to outpace, leave behind.

#### Distance

(transitive) To lose interest in a specific issue.

#### Distance

The space between two objects; the length of a line, especially the shortest line joining two points or things that are separate; measure of separation in place.
Every particle attracts every other with a force . . . inversely proportioned to the square of the distance.

#### Distance

Remoteness of place; a remote place.
Easily managed from a distance.
'T is distance lends enchantment to the view.
[He] waits at distance till he hears from Cato.

#### Distance

A space marked out in the last part of a race course.
The horse that ran the whole field out of distance.

#### Distance

Relative space, between troops in ranks, measured from front to rear; - contrasted with interval, which is measured from right to left.

#### Distance

Space between two antagonists in fencing.

#### Distance

The part of a picture which contains the representation of those objects which are the farthest away, esp. in a landscape.

#### Distance

Ideal disjunction; discrepancy; contrariety.

#### Distance

Length or interval of time; period, past or future, between two eras or events.
Ten years' distance between one and the other.
The writings of Euclid at the distance of two thousand years.

#### Distance

The remoteness or reserve which respect requires; hence, respect; ceremoniousness.
I hope your modestyWill know what distance to the crown is due.
'T is by respect and distance that authority is upheld.

#### Distance

A withholding of intimacy; alienation; coldness; disagreement; variance; restraint; reserve.
Setting them [factions] at distance, or at least distrust amongst themselves.
On the part of Heaven,Now alienated, distance and distaste.

#### Distance

Remoteness in succession or relation; as, the distance between a descendant and his ancestor.

#### Distance

The interval between two notes; as, the distance of a fourth or seventh.
If a man makes me keep my distance, the comfort is he keeps his at the same time.

#### Distance

To place at a distance or remotely.
I heard nothing thereof at Oxford, being then miles distanced thence.

#### Distance

To cause to appear as if at a distance; to make seem remote.
His peculiar art of distancing an object to aggrandize his space.

#### Distance

The property created by the space between two objects or points

#### Distance

A distant region;
I could see it in the distance

#### Distance

Size of the gap between two places;
The distance from New York to Chicago
He determined the length of the shortest line segment joining the two points

#### Distance

Indifference by personal withdrawal;
Emotional distance

#### Distance

The interval between two times;
The distance from birth to death
It all happened in the space of 10 minutes

#### Distance

A remote point in time;
If that happens it will be at some distance in the future
At a distance of ten years he had forgotten many of the details

#### Distance

Keep at a distance;
We have to distance ourselves from these events in order to continue living

#### Distance

He outdistanced the other runners

## Common Curiosities

#### Does distance depend on direction?

No, distance measures the length of the path traveled without direction.

#### What units are used to measure displacement and distance?

Both are typically measured in meters or kilometers.

#### Can you calculate average velocity using distance?

No, average velocity is calculated using displacement, not distance.

#### Can distance ever decrease?

No, distance traveled can only increase or stay the same.

#### How can displacement be zero?

Displacement is zero when the starting and ending points are the same.

#### Can displacement be greater than distance?

No, displacement is at most equal to the distance when the path is straight.

#### In what scenarios is it useful to calculate displacement?

Calculating displacement is useful in physics for understanding motion along a straight path.

#### How do displacement and distance relate to speed and velocity?

Speed is the scalar magnitude of velocity, based on distance, while velocity depends on displacement.

#### Are there any common misunderstandings about displacement and distance?

A common misunderstanding is equating them when discussing movement; they can vastly differ depending on the path.

#### What is a practical example of displacement affecting a decision?

In navigation, choosing a straight path (displacement) saves time over a longer curved route (distance).

#### Why is understanding both concepts important in physics?

Understanding both helps in accurately describing and analyzing motion.

#### How is displacement shown on a graph?

Displacement is shown as a straight line vector from the initial to the final position on a graph.

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