International System of Quantities


The International System of Quantities (ISQ) consists of the quantities used in physics and in modern science in general, starting with basic quantities such as length and mass, and the relationships between those quantities.[a] This system underlies the International System of Units (SI)[b] but does not itself determine the units of measurement used for the quantities. It is inherently incomplete because the number of quantities is potentially infinite.

The system is formally described in a multi-part ISO standard ISO/IEC 80000, first completed in 2009 and subsequently revised and expanded.

Base quantitiesEdit

The base quantities of a given system of physical quantities is a subset of those quantities, where no base quantity can be expressed in terms of the others, but where every quantity in the system can be expressed in terms of the base quantities. Within this constraint, the set of base quantities is chosen by convention. The ISQ defines seven base quantities. The symbols for them, as for other quantities, are written in italics.[1]

The dimension of a physical quantity does not include magnitude or units. The conventional symbolic representation of the dimension of a base quantity is a single upper-case letter in roman (upright) sans-serif[c] type.

Base quantity Symbol for quantity[d] Symbol for dimension SI base unit[d] SI unit symbol[d]
length     metre m
mass     kilogram kg
time     second s
electric current     ampere A
thermodynamic temperature     kelvin K
amount of substance     mole mol
luminous intensity     candela cd

Derived quantitiesEdit

A derived quantity is a quantity in a system of quantities that is defined in terms of only the base quantities of that system. The ISQ defines many derived quantities.

Dimensional expression of derived quantitiesEdit

The conventional symbolic representation of the dimension of a derived quantity is the product of powers of the dimensions of the base quantities according to the definition of the derived quantity. The dimension of a quantity is denoted by  , where the dimensional exponents are positive, negative, or zero. The symbol may be omitted if its exponent is zero. For example, in the ISQ, the quantity dimension of velocity is denoted  . The following table lists some quantities defined by the ISQ.

A quantity of dimension one is historically known as a dimensionless quantity (a term that is still commonly used); all its dimensional exponents are zero and its dimension symbol is  . Such a quantity can be regarded as a derived quantity in the form of the ratio of two quantities of the same dimension. The named dimensionless units "radian" (rad) and "steradian" (sr) are acceptable for distinguishing dimensionless quantities of different kind.[3]

Derived quantity Expression in SI base dimensions
plane angle  
solid angle  

Logarithmic quantitiesEdit


The level of a quantity is defined as the logarithm of the ratio of the quantity with a stated reference value of that quantity. Within the ISQ it is differently defined for a root-power quantity (also known by the deprecated term field quantity) and for a power quantity. It is not defined for ratios of quantities of other kinds. Within the ISQ, all levels are treated as derived quantities of dimension 1.[citation needed] Several units for levels are defined by the SI and classified as "non-SI units accepted for use with the SI units".[4]

An example of level is sound pressure level, with the unit of decibel.

Logarithmic frequency ratioEdit

Units of logarithmic frequency ratio are the octave, corresponding to a factor of 2 in frequency (precisely) and the decade, corresponding to a factor 10.

Information entropyEdit

The ISQ recognizes another logarithmic quantity: information entropy, for which the coherent unit is the natural unit of information (symbol nat).[citation needed]


The system is formally described in a multi-part ISO standard ISO/IEC 80000, first completed in 2009 but subsequently revised and expanded, which replaced standards published in 1992, ISO 31 and ISO 1000. Working jointly, ISO and IEC have formalized parts of the ISQ by giving information and definitions concerning quantities, systems of quantities, units, quantity and unit symbols, and coherent unit systems, with particular reference to the ISQ. ISO/IEC 80000 defines physical quantities that are measured with the SI units[5] and also includes many other quantities in modern science and technology.[1] The name "International System of Quantities" is used by the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) to describe the system of quantities that underlie the International System of Units.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The system of quantities, including the relations among them the quantities used as the basis of the units of the SI, is named the International System of Quantities, denoted 'ISQ', in all languages. [...] It should be realized, however, that ISQ is simply a convenient notation to assign to the essentially infinite and continually evolving and expanding system of quantities and equations on which all of modern science and technology rests. ISQ is a shorthand notation for the 'system of quantities on which the SI is based', which was the phrase used for this system in ISO 31."[1]
  2. ^ "The revised harmonized standard will be known as ISO/IEC 80000, Quantities and Units, in which it is proposed that the quantities and equations used with the SI will be known as the International System of Quantities."[2]
  3. ^ The status of the requirement for sans-serif is not as clear, since ISO 80000-1:2009 makes no mention of it ("The conventional symbolic representation of the dimension of a base quantity is a single upper case letter in roman (upright) type.") whereas the secondary source BIPM JCGM 200:2012 does ("The conventional symbolic representation of the dimension of a base quantity is a single upper case letter in roman (upright) sans-serif type.").
  4. ^ a b c The associated quantity symbol, the SI unit name and SI unit symbol are given here for reference only; they do not form part of the ISQ.


  1. ^ a b c ISO 80000-1:2009 Quantities and units. Part 1: General (1st ed.), Switzerland: ISO (the International Organization for Standardization), 2009-11-15, p. vi, retrieved 23 May 2015}} }}
  2. ^ NIST Special Publication 330 – 2008 edition, p. 10
  3. ^ "ISO 80000-3:2019". International Organization for Standardization. Retrieved 2019-10-23.
  4. ^ Le Système international d’unités [The International System of Units] (PDF) (in French and English) (9th ed.), International Bureau of Weights and Measures, 2019, p. 145, ISBN 978-92-822-2272-0
  5. ^ "1.16" (PDF). International vocabulary of metrology – Basic and general concepts and associated terms (VIM) (3rd ed.). International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM):Joint Committee for Guides in Metrology. 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2015.

Further readingEdit