# Strain vs. Tension — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Fiza Rafique — Updated on April 9, 2024
Strain is the deformation of materials under stress, focusing on the internal changes, while tension refers to the force stretching a material, emphasizing external stress.

ADVERTISEMENT

## Key Differences

Strain involves the change in shape or size of an object due to applied forces, indicating a material’s response to stress. This concept is crucial in materials science, where understanding how materials deform under various loads is essential. Whereas tension is a specific type of stress that acts to stretch or elongate a material. Tension affects the external configuration of an object, pulling it apart and is often measured to ensure structural integrity and safety in engineering applications.
In the context of physics and engineering, strain is quantified as the ratio of change in length to the original length, often resulting in a dimensionless number. It helps in assessing how much a material can stretch or compress before reaching its limit. On the other hand, tension is measured in units of force, such as Newtons (N), and is a vector quantity, which means it has both magnitude and direction. Tension's measurement is crucial for engineers to design structures and materials that can withstand specific loads without failing.
Strain can be elastic, where a material returns to its original shape after the removal of stress, or plastic, where the deformation is permanent. This distinction helps in choosing the right materials for specific applications, ensuring they behave as expected under stress. In contrast, tension always tries to elongate a material and is a fundamental factor in determining the load a cable, for example, can support before breaking. The concept of tension is vital in fields such as construction and mechanics, where the safety and reliability of components are paramount.
Material fatigue is a phenomenon closely associated with strain, where repeated application of stress causes weakening of a material over time, leading to failure. Understanding how strain affects materials under cyclic loads is essential for predicting the lifespan of structures and components. Conversely, tension can lead to stress concentrations at certain points, especially at notches or sharp corners, which can be critical in the design of mechanical parts to prevent premature failure.
Strain gauges are tools used to measure strain by monitoring the change in electrical resistance as a material deforms. These devices provide precise readings of strain, allowing for the monitoring of structures and materials under stress. Meanwhile, tension can be measured directly through force gauges or indirectly through the calculation based on the deformation observed, aiding in the maintenance and design of various structures and systems.
ADVERTISEMENT

## Comparison Chart

### Definition

Deformation of a material under stress
Force stretching a material

### Units

Dimensionless (ratio)
Newtons (N), a unit of force

### Type of Stress

Can be either compressive or tensile
Always tensile, stretching the material

### Measurement

Change in length/original length
Directly measured as a force

### Related Phenomena

Elastic and plastic deformation, material fatigue
Stress concentrations, breaking point

## Compare with Definitions

#### Strain

Strain refers to the deformation of an object under applied stress.
A rubber band exhibits strain when stretched.

#### Tension

It measures the stress on materials being stretched.
Engineers calculate the tension in bridge cables under load.

#### Strain

Elastic strain allows materials to return to their original shape after being deformed.
A spring's elongation and return is a demonstration of elastic strain.

#### Tension

Tension can cause elongation in materials until breaking point.
Excessive tension on a wire can lead to it snapping.

#### Strain

Creep is a time-dependent permanent strain under constant stress.
Sagging power lines over time due to creep.

#### Tension

Tension forces are always directed along the length of the material.
Tension in a string is distributed along its length when pulled from both ends.

#### Strain

Plastic strain results in permanent deformation.
Bending a paperclip leads to plastic strain.

#### Tension

It's a critical factor in the design of structural elements.
The tension in the suspension cables supports the weight of the bridge.

#### Strain

Shear strain occurs when parts of a material slide past each other.
The distortion of a deck of cards when the top portion is shifted.

#### Tension

Tension is the force that pulls materials apart.
The force applied to a rope during a tug-of-war.

#### Strain

To pull, draw, or stretch tight
The heavy load strained the rope.

#### Tension

The act or process of stretching something tight.

#### Strain

(Physics) To cause distortion of (a body's parts or shape) by applying an external force; deform.

#### Tension

The condition of so being stretched; tautness.

#### Strain

To exert, use, or tax to the utmost
Straining our ears to hear.

#### Tension

A force tending to stretch or elongate something.

#### Strain

To injure or impair by overuse or overexertion; wrench
Strain a muscle.

#### Tension

A measure of such a force
A tension on the cable of 50 pounds.

#### Strain

To damage or weaken by pressure or tension
Winds that strained the mast.

#### Tension

Mental, emotional, or nervous strain
Working under great tension to make a deadline.

#### Strain

To force beyond the proper or reasonable limit
An excuse that strains credulity.

#### Tension

Barely controlled hostility or a strained relationship between people or groups
The dangerous tension between opposing military powers.

#### Strain

To pass (a liquid) through a filtering agent such as a strainer.

#### Tension

A balanced relation between strongly opposing elements
"the continuing, and essential, tension between two of the three branches of government, judicial and legislative" (Haynes Johnson).

#### Strain

To draw off or remove by filtration
Strained the pulp from the juice.

#### Tension

The interplay of conflicting elements in a piece of literature, especially a poem.

#### Strain

(Archaic) To embrace or clasp tightly; hug.

#### Tension

A device for regulating tautness, especially a device that controls the tautness of thread on a sewing machine or loom.

#### Strain

To make strong or steady efforts; strive hard
Straining to complete the coursework.

#### Tension

(Electricity) Voltage or potential; electromotive force.

#### Strain

To contract or exert one's muscles to the utmost.

#### Tension

To subject to tension; tighten.

#### Strain

To pull or push forcibly or violently
The dog strained at its leash.

#### Tension

The condition of being held in a state between two or more forces, which are acting in opposition to each other.

#### Strain

To be or become wrenched or twisted
The flagpole straining in the wind.

#### Tension

Psychological state of being tense.

#### Strain

To be subjected to great stress
With such busy lives, the marriage can strain.

#### Tension

A feeling of nervousness, excitement, or fear that is created in a movie, book, etc.; suspense.

#### Strain

To pass through a filtering agent
The muddy water strains slowly.

#### Tension

State of an elastic object which is stretched in a way which increases its length.

#### Strain

The act of straining.

#### Tension

Force transmitted through a rope, string, cable, or similar object (used with prepositions on, in, or of, e.g., "The tension in the cable is 1000 N", to convey that the same magnitude of force applies to objects attached to both ends).

#### Strain

The state of being strained
The strain on the cable.

#### Tension

Voltage. Usually only the terms low tension, high tension, and extra-high tension, and the abbreviations LT, HT, and EHT are used. They are not precisely defined; LT is normally a few volts, HT a few hundreds of volts, and EHT thousands of volts.

#### Strain

Extreme or laborious effort, exertion, or work
Moved the sofa with little strain.

#### Tension

To place an object in tension, to pull or place strain on.
We tensioned the cable until it snapped.

#### Strain

A great or excessive demand or stress on one's body, mind, or resources
The strain of managing both a family and a career.

#### Tension

The act of stretching or straining; the state of being stretched or strained to stiffness; the state of being bent strained; as, the tension of the muscles, tension of the larynx.

#### Strain

The state of being subjected to such demands or stresses
Trying to work under great strain.

#### Tension

Fig.: Extreme strain of mind or excitement of feeling; intense effort.

#### Strain

A wrench, twist, or other physical injury resulting from excessive tension, effort, or use.

#### Tension

The degree of stretching to which a wire, cord, piece of timber, or the like, is strained by drawing it in the direction of its length; strain.

#### Strain

(Physics) Any of several kinds of deformation of the dimensions of a body when subjected to stress, as axial strain or elastic strain.

#### Tension

The force by which a part is pulled when forming part of any system in equilibrium or in motion; as, the tension of a srting supporting a weight equals that weight.

#### Strain

An exceptional degree or pitch
A strain of zealous idealism.

#### Tension

A device for checking the delivery of the thread in a sewing machine, so as to give the stitch the required degree of tightness.

#### Strain

A group of bacteria or viruses that are genetically distinct from other groups of the same species.

#### Tension

Expansive force; the force with which the particles of a body, as a gas, tend to recede from each other and occupy a larger space; elastic force; elasticity; as, the tension of vapor; the tension of air.

#### Strain

A group of cultivated plants or domestic animals of the same species that have distinctive characteristics but are not considered a separate breed or variety.

#### Tension

The quality in consequence of which an electric charge tends to discharge itself, as into the air by a spark, or to pass from a body of greater to one of less electrical potential. It varies as the quantity of electricity upon a given area.

#### Strain

The collective descendants of a common ancestor; a race, stock, line, or breed.

#### Tension

Feelings of hostility that are not manifest;
He could sense her latent hostility to him
The diplomats' first concern was to reduce international tensions

#### Strain

Any of the various lines of ancestry united in an individual or a family; ancestry or lineage.

#### Tension

(psychology) a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense;
He suffered from fatigue and emotional tension
Stress is a vasoconstrictor

#### Strain

A kind or sort
Imaginings of a morbid strain.

#### Tension

The physical condition of being stretched or strained;
It places great tension on the leg muscles
He could feel the tenseness of her body

#### Strain

An inborn or inherited tendency or character
A strain of eccentricity in the family.

#### Tension

A balance between and interplay of opposing elements or tendencies (especially in art or literature);
There is a tension created between narrative time and movie time
There is a tension between these approaches to understanding history

#### Strain

An inherent quality; a streak
"his upper-caste father, placid, inactive, with a strain of asceticism" (V.S. Naipaul).

#### Tension

(physics) a stress that produces an elongation of an elastic physical body;
The direction of maximum tension moves asymptotically toward the direction of the shear

#### Strain

The tone, tenor, or substance of a verbal utterance or of a particular action or behavior
Spoke in a passionate strain.

#### Tension

The action of stretching something tight;
Tension holds the belt in the pulleys

#### Strain

Often strains(Music) A passage of expression; a tune or an air
Melodic strains of the violin.

#### Strain

A passage of poetic and especially lyrical expression.

#### Strain

An outburst or a flow of eloquent or impassioned language.

#### Strain

(archaic) Race; lineage, pedigree.

#### Strain

(biology) A particular variety of a microbe, virus, or other organism, usually a taxonomically infraspecific one.
They say this year's flu virus is a particularly virulent strain.

#### Strain

(figurative) Hereditary character, quality, tendency, or disposition.
There is a strain of madness in her family.

#### Strain

Any sustained note or movement; a song; a distinct portion of an ode or other poem; also, the pervading note, or burden, of a song, poem, etc.

#### Strain

Language that is eloquent, poetic, or otherwise heightened.

#### Strain

(rare) A kind or sort (of person etc.).

#### Strain

(obsolete) Treasure.

#### Strain

The act of straining, or the state of being strained.

#### Strain

A violent effort; an excessive and hurtful exertion or tension, as of the muscles.
He jumped up with a strain
The strain upon the sailboat's rigging

#### Strain

An injury resulting from violent effort; a sprain.

#### Strain

A dimensionless measure of object deformation either referring to engineering strain or true strain.

#### Strain

(obsolete) The track of a deer.

#### Strain

(obsolete) To hold tightly, to clasp.

#### Strain

To apply a force or forces to by stretching out.
To strain a rope; to strain the shrouds of a ship
Relations between the United States and Guatemala traditionally have been close, although at times strained by human rights and civil/military issues.

#### Strain

To damage by drawing, stretching, or the exertion of force.
The gale strained the timbers of the ship.

#### Strain

To act upon, in any way, so as to cause change of form or volume, as when bending a beam.

#### Strain

To exert or struggle (to do something), especially to stretch (one's senses, faculties etc.) beyond what is normal or comfortable.
Sitting in back, I strained to hear the speaker.

#### Strain

To stretch beyond its proper limit; to do violence to, in terms of intent or meaning.
To strain the law in order to convict an accused person

#### Strain

(transitive) To separate solid from liquid by passing through a strainer or colander

#### Strain

(intransitive) To percolate; to be filtered.
Water straining through a sandy soil

#### Strain

To make uneasy or unnatural; to produce with apparent effort; to force; to constrain.

#### Strain

To urge with importunity; to press.
To strain a petition or invitation

#### Strain

(transitive) hug somebody; to hold somebody tightly.

#### Strain

(obsolete) To beget, generate (of light), engender, copulate (both of animals and humans), lie with, be born, come into the world.
A man straineth, liveth, then dieth.
Man, look at that cat straining that kitty.

#### Strain

Race; stock; generation; descent; family.
He is of a noble strain.
With animals and plants a cross between different varieties, or between individuals of the same variety but of another strain, gives vigor and fertility to the offspring.

#### Strain

Hereditary character, quality, or disposition.
Intemperance and lust breed diseases, which, propogated, spoil the strain of nation.

Rank; a sort.

#### Strain

A cultural subvariety that is only slightly differentiated.

#### Strain

The act of straining, or the state of being strained.

#### Strain

A violent effort; an excessive and hurtful exertion or tension, as of the muscles; as, he lifted the weight with a strain; the strain upon a ship's rigging in a gale; also, the hurt or injury resulting; a sprain.
Whether any poet of our country since Shakespeare has exerted a greater variety of powers with less strain and less ostentation.
Credit is gained by custom, and seldom recovers a strain.

#### Strain

A portion of music divided off by a double bar; a complete musical period or sentence; a movement, or any rounded subdivision of a movement.
Their heavenly harps a lower strain began.

#### Strain

A change of form or dimensions of a solid or liquid mass, produced by a stress.

#### Strain

Any sustained note or movement; a song; a distinct portion of an ode or other poem; also, the pervading note, or burden, of a song, poem, oration, book, etc.; theme; motive; manner; style; also, a course of action or conduct; as, he spoke in a noble strain; there was a strain of woe in his story; a strain of trickery appears in his career.
Such take too high a strain at first.
The genius and strain of the book of Proverbs.
It [Pilgrim's Progress] seems a novelty, and yet containsNothing but sound and honest gospel strains.

#### Strain

Turn; tendency; inborn disposition. Cf. 1st Strain.
Because heretics have a strain of madness, he applied her with some corporal chastisements.

#### Strain

To draw with force; to extend with great effort; to stretch; as, to strain a rope; to strain the shrouds of a ship; to strain the cords of a musical instrument.

#### Strain

To act upon, in any way, so as to cause change of form or volume, as forces on a beam to bend it.

#### Strain

To exert to the utmost; to ply vigorously.
He sweats,Strains his young nerves.
They strain their warbling throatsTo welcome in the spring.

#### Strain

To stretch beyond its proper limit; to do violence to, in the matter of intent or meaning; as, to strain the law in order to convict an accused person.
There can be no other meaning in this expression, however some may pretend to strain it.

#### Strain

To injure by drawing, stretching, or the exertion of force; as, the gale strained the timbers of the ship.

#### Strain

To injure in the muscles or joints by causing to make too strong an effort; to harm by overexertion; to sprain; as, to strain a horse by overloading; to strain the wrist; to strain a muscle.
Prudes decayed about may track,Strain their necks with looking back.

#### Strain

To squeeze; to press closely.
Evander with a close embraceStrained his departing friend.

#### Strain

To make uneasy or unnatural; to produce with apparent effort; to force; to constrain.
He talks and plays with Fatima, but his mirthIs forced and strained.
The quality of mercy is not strained.

#### Strain

To urge with importunity; to press; as, to strain a petition or invitation.
Note, if your lady strain his entertainment.

#### Strain

To press, or cause to pass, through a strainer, as through a screen, a cloth, or some porous substance; to purify, or separate from extraneous or solid matter, by filtration; to filter; as, to strain milk through cloth.

#### Strain

To make violent efforts.
To build his fortune I will strain a little.

#### Strain

To percolate; to be filtered; as, water straining through a sandy soil.

#### Strain

(physics) deformation of a physical body under the action of applied forces

#### Strain

Difficulty that causes worry or emotional tension;
She endured the stresses and strains of life
He presided over the economy during the period of the greatest stress and danger

#### Strain

A succession of notes forming a distinctive sequence;
She was humming an air from Beethoven

#### Strain

(psychology) nervousness resulting from mental stress;
His responsibilities were a constant strain
The mental strain of staying alert hour after hour was too much for him

#### Strain

A special variety of domesticated animals within a species;
He experimented on a particular breed of white rats
He created a new strain of sheep

#### Strain

(biology) a group of organisms within a species that differ in trivial ways from similar groups;
A new strain of microorganisms

#### Strain

A lineage or race of people

#### Strain

Injury to a muscle (often caused by overuse); results in swelling and pain

#### Strain

Pervading note of an utterance;
I could follow the general tenor of his argument

#### Strain

An effortful attempt to attain a goal

#### Strain

An intense or violent exertion

#### Strain

The act of singing;
With a shout and a song they marched up to the gates

#### Strain

To exert much effort or energy;
Straining our ears to hear

#### Strain

Test the limits of;
You are trying my patience!

#### Strain

Use to the utmost; exert vigorously or to full capacity;
He really extended himself when he climbed Kilimanjaro
Don't strain your mind too much

#### Strain

Separate by passing through a sieve or other straining device to separate out coarser elements;
Sift the flour

#### Strain

Make tense and uneasy or nervous or anxious;

#### Strain

Stretch or force to the limit;
Strain the rope

#### Strain

Remove by passing through a filter;
Filter out the impurities

#### Strain

Rub through a strainer or process in an electric blender;
Puree the vegetables for the baby

#### Strain

Alter the shape of (something) by stress;
His body was deformed by leprosy

## Common Curiosities

#### What is strain?

Strain is the deformation or displacement in material structure under applied stress.

#### How is tension different from compression?

Tension refers to forces pulling materials apart, while compression involves forces pushing materials together.

#### Why is understanding tension important in construction?

It ensures structures can withstand the forces they're subjected to without failing.

#### What units are used to measure tension?

Tension is measured in units of force, such as Newtons (N).

#### How do strain gauges work?

They measure the change in electrical resistance as a material deforms, indicating strain.

#### What is plastic strain?

Plastic strain results in permanent deformation of a material after stress is applied.

#### What is creep in materials science?

Creep is the time-dependent permanent deformation under constant stress.

#### Can strain be reversed?

Elastic strain is reversible, allowing materials to return to their original shape, while plastic strain is permanent.

#### Is tension a vector or scalar quantity?

Tension is a vector quantity, having both magnitude and direction.

#### How can tension lead to failure in materials?

Excessive tension can cause materials to elongate and reach a breaking point.

#### What causes material fatigue?

Repeated application of stress causes material fatigue, leading to weakening and eventual failure.

#### What does shear strain mean?

Shear strain occurs when parts of a material slide past each other under stress.

#### Why is measuring strain important?

It helps in predicting material behavior under various loads and in different conditions.

#### How does tension affect structural design?

Understanding tension allows engineers to design structures that can safely withstand stretching forces.

#### Can tension be measured directly?

Yes, tension can be measured directly using force gauges or indirectly through deformation calculations.

## Share Your Discovery

Share via Social Media
Embed This Content
Embed Code
Share Directly via Messenger
Link
Previous Comparison
Doodle vs. Poodle

## Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at AskDifference.com, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.