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The kilometre (American spelling: kilometer), symbol km is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one thousand metres and is therefore exactly equal to the distance travelled by light in free space in of a second.

It is the conventionally used measurement unit for expressing distances between geographical places in most of the world; notable exceptions are the United States, where the statute mile is used, and the United Kingdom. Although the United Kingdom Ordnance Surveymarker adopted grid lines one kilometre apart in 1936, road signs continue to show distances in miles, distances are still normally quoted in miles, and car speedometers and odometers are calibrated in miles. One kilometre equals 3,280 feet 10 5/64 inches, approximately 14 inches short of 1,094 yards or approximately 0.6214 statute miles.

Slang terms for kilometre include click (sometimes spelled klick or klik) and kay (or k).


There are two pronunciations for the word:
  • and
The former pronunciation follows the general pattern in English whereby metric units of measurement are pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, and preserves the pronunciation of metre. It is generally preferred by the BBC, while most scientists use the pronunciation with stress on the second syllable. The latter pronunciation, which follows the stress pattern used for the names of measuring instruments (such as micrometer, barometer, thermometer, tachometer and speedometer), is in common usage as well. Kingsley Amis has suggested that this pronunciation (and the American spelling) be reserved for the thousand-measurer, the wall which Herodotus says Xerxes built around a thousand troops so he could count his army.

When Australia introduced the metric system, the first pronunciation was declared official by the government's Metric Conversion Board. However, the Australian Prime Minister at the time, Gough Whitlam insisted that the second pronunciation was the correct one because of the Greek origins of the two parts of the word.

Equivalence to other units of length

1 kilometre = 1,000 metres
≈ 0.621 statute milesOne international statute mile is exactly 1.609344 kilometres.

the rule-of-thumb "multiply by 8 and divide by 5" gives a conversion of 1.6, which is approximately 0.6% too low.
≈ 1,094 yards
≈ 3,281 feet
≈ 0.540 nautical miles
≈ 6.68 astronomical units
≈ 1.057 light-years
≈ 3.24 parsecs

International usage

The United Kingdom and the United States are the only two developed countries which continue to use miles on road signs.

Although the UK has officially adopted the metric system, there are currently no plans to replace the mile on road signs in the near future, owing to the British public's attachment to traditional imperial units of distance, i.e., miles, yards and inches, and the cost of changing speed signs (which could not be replaced during general maintenance, like distance signs, for safety reasons). As of 11 September 2007, the EU has not challenged Britain's use of the imperial system. EU commissioner Günter Verheugen said: "There is not now and never will be any requirement to drop imperial measurements."

In the US, the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 prohibits the use of federal-aid highway funds to convert existing signs or purchase new signs with metric units. However, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices since 2000 is published in both metric and American Customary Units. (See also Metrication in the United States.)

Notes and references

  1. For the purposes of compatibility with Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters there is a Unicode symbol for the kilometre, ㎞, (code 339E).
  2. These non-standard terms can also refer to kilometres per hour.
  5. The King's English: "Kilometre"; Herodotus 7, 60
  8. One international yard is exactly 0.0009144 kilometres.
  9. One international foot is exactly 0.0003048 kilometres.
  10. One nautical mile is equal to 1.852 kilometres.
  11. One astronomical unit is currently accepted to be equal to 149,597,870,691 ± 30 metres.
  12. A light-year is equal to 9,460,730,472,580.8 kilometres, the distance light travels through vacuum in one Julian year of 365.25 days.

See also

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