Episode 51: US Measurement System

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 51: US Measurement System

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Globally there are three main measuring systems: metric, British Imperial and US Standard or Customary. Today, most countries officially use the metric system. In fact, even Britain officially converted to the metric system in 1965.

The US system comes from the old British Imperial system. Much of the vocabulary is the same, but some of the measurements are different.

In 1975, Congress passed the Metric Conversion Act, making the metric system the preferred system. However, it was voluntary. Therefore, some things in the US converted to the metric system and others did not. Today, anything related to science, the military and some industries is measured in metric.

However, most everyday measurements still use the US system. For example, we buy gasoline by the gallon, measure flour by the pound and drive in miles per hour (mph). On packaging, especially food, weights are given in US units, but most packages also list the metric equivalent just after the US measurement.

There are a few exceptions, such as

  • Larger soft drink bottles are liters

  • Medicine is in milligrams

  • Some car parts are in millimeters


  • Distance is in miles, yards and inches

  • Dry weight is in pounds and ounces

  • Liquid volume is in gallons, quarts, cups and ounces

Note that some measuring words, such as ounce, are used for both dry and liquid, especially for cooking recipes. To find accurate conversions, use an app or a website that has a converter.

For a list of tables with the US measurement units and equivalents, visit my Patreon page at www.Patreon.com/SlowAmericanEnglish. There you can download a FREE pdf file containing these tables and some metric conversion tables, too.

Here are some general tips:

  • A quart is a little larger than a liter. There are 32 ounces in a quart. Four quarts equal a gallon.

  • An inch is about the size of the end of your thumb; there are 12 inches in a foot.

  • A foot is based on the size of a man’s foot. There are three feet in a yard. A yard is a little longer than a meter.

  • Two-thirds of a mile is about one kilometer.

  • Thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit is 0 degrees Celsius (32=0). Sixty-one degrees Fahrenheit is about 16 degrees Celsius (just reverse the numbers: 61=16). Eighty-two degrees Fahrenheit equals 28 degrees Celsius (82=28).

  • One pound is about half a kilogram.

Language notes:

  • A dozen is 12; a baker’s dozen is 13.

  • An American football field (100 yards by 160 feet) is often used for comparisons. For instance, “The base of the Eiffel Tower is the size of two football fields.”

  • To inch means to move a small bit at a time. “The dog inched closer to the woman’s food.”

  • A miss is as good as a mile means a narrow failure or escape has the same result as a wide failure or miss. Terry: “I almost won the race!” Pat: “But you still didn’t win. A miss is as good as a mile.”

  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure means it’s better to prevent something than to have to solve a problem later.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. © Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

For a free transcript and to subscribe to the podcast, visit www.SlowAmericanEnglish.net. You can also subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, TuneIn and any other podcast feed reader.

Don’t forget to download your FREE BONUS MATERIAL for this episode. Visit www.Patreon.com/SlowAmericanEnglish to download your free pdf with tables of the US measurement units and equivalents.

Theme music for this podcast is written and performed by SW Campbell and used by permission. Find more music by this artist at www.Soundclick.com/swcampbell.

This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.