The litre (international spelling) or liter (American English spelling) (SI symbols L and l, other symbol used: ℓ) is a metric unit of volume. It is equal to 1 cubic decimetre (dm3), 1000 cubic centimetres (cm3) or 0.001 cubic metre (m3). A cubic decimetre (or litre) occupies a volume of 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm (see figure) and is thus equal to one-thousandth of a cubic metre.
|Unit system||Non-SI unit accepted for use with SI|
|Symbol||L or l or (ℓ)|
|1 L in ...||... is equal to ...|
|SI base unit||10−3 m3|
|U.S. customary||≈ 0.264 gallon|
The original French metric system used the litre as a base unit. The word litre is derived from an older French unit, the litron, whose name came from Byzantine Greek—where it was a unit of weight, not volume—via Late Medieval Latin, and which equalled approximately 0.831 litres. The litre was also used in several subsequent versions of the metric system and is accepted for use with the SI, although not an SI unit—the SI unit of volume is the cubic metre (m3). The spelling used by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures is "litre", a spelling which is shared by most English-speaking countries. The spelling "liter" is predominantly used in American English.[a]
One litre of liquid water has a mass of almost exactly one kilogram, because the kilogram was originally defined in 1795 as the mass of one cubic decimetre of water at the temperature of melting ice (0 °C). Subsequent redefinitions of the metre and kilogram mean that this relationship is no longer exact.
A litre is a cubic decimetre, which is the volume of a cube 10 centimetres × 10 centimetres × 10 centimetres (1 L ≡ 1 dm3 ≡ 1000 cm3). Hence 1 L ≡ 0.001 m3 ≡ 1000 cm3; and 1 m3 (i.e. a cubic metre, which is the SI unit for volume) is exactly 1000 L.
From 1901 to 1964, the litre was defined as the volume of one kilogram of pure water at maximum density (+4 °C) and standard pressure. The kilogram was in turn specified as the mass of the International Prototype of the Kilogram (a specific platinum/iridium cylinder) and was intended to be of the same mass as the 1 litre of water referred to above. It was subsequently discovered that the cylinder was around 28 parts per million too large and thus, during this time, a litre was about 1.000028 dm3. Additionally, the mass–volume relationship of water (as with any fluid) depends on temperature, pressure, purity and isotopic uniformity. In 1964, the definition relating the litre to mass was superseded by the current one. Although the litre is not an SI unit, it is accepted by the CGPM (the standards body that defines the SI) for use with the SI. CGPM defines the litre and its acceptable symbols.
Litres are most commonly used for items (such as fluids and solids that can be poured) which are measured by the capacity or size of their container, whereas cubic metres (and derived units) are most commonly used for items measured either by their dimensions or their displacements. The litre is often also used in some calculated measurements, such as density (kg/L), allowing an easy comparison with the density of water.
One litre of water has a mass of almost exactly one kilogram when measured at its maximal density, which occurs at about 4 °C. It follows, therefore, that 1000th of a litre, known as one millilitre (1 mL), of water has a mass of about 1 g; 1000 litres of water has a mass of about 1000 kg (1 tonne or megagram). This relationship holds because the gram was originally defined as the mass of 1 mL of water; however, this definition was abandoned in 1799 because the density of water changes with temperature and, very slightly, with pressure.
It is now known that the density of water also depends on the isotopic ratios of the oxygen and hydrogen atoms in a particular sample. Modern measurements of Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water, which is pure distilled water with an isotopic composition representative of the average of the world's oceans, show that it has a density of 0.999975±0.000001 kg/L at its point of maximum density (3.984 °C) under one standard atmosphere (101.325 kPa) of pressure.
The litre, though not an official SI unit, may be used with SI prefixes. The most commonly used derived unit is the millilitre, defined as one-thousandth of a litre, and also often referred to by the SI derived unit name "cubic centimetre". It is a commonly used measure, especially in medicine, cooking and automotive engineering. Other units may be found in the table below, where the more often used terms are in bold. However, some authorities advise against some of them; for example, in the United States, NIST advocates using the millilitre or litre instead of the centilitre. There are two international standard symbols for the litre: L and l. In the United States the former is preferred because of the risk that (in some fonts) the letter
l and the digit
1 may be confused.
|Multiple||Name||Symbols||Equivalent volume||Submultiple||Name||Symbols||Equivalent volume|
|100 L||litre||l||L||dm3||cubic decimetre|
|101 L||decalitre||dal||daL||101 dm3||ten cubic decimetres||10−1 L||decilitre||dl||dL||102 cm3||hundred cubic centimetres|
|102 L||hectolitre||hl||hL||102 dm3||hundred cubic decimetres||10−2 L||centilitre||cl||cL||101 cm3||ten cubic centimetres|
|103 L||kilolitre||kl||kL||m3||cubic metre||10−3 L||millilitre||ml||mL||cm3||cubic centimetre|
|106 L||megalitre||Ml||ML||dam3||cubic decametre, 1 million litres||10−6 L||microlitre||μl||μL||mm3||cubic millimetre|
|109 L||gigalitre||Gl||GL||hm3||cubic hectometre||10−9 L||nanolitre||nl||nL||106 μm3||million cubic micrometres|
|1012 L||teralitre||Tl||TL||km3||cubic kilometre||10−12 L||picolitre||pl||pL||103 μm3||thousand cubic micrometres|
|1015 L||petalitre||Pl||PL||103 km3||thousand cubic kilometres||10−15 L||femtolitre||fl||fL||μm3||cubic micrometre|
|1018 L||exalitre||El||EL||106 km3||million cubic kilometres||10−18 L||attolitre||al||aL||106 nm3||million cubic nanometres|
|1021 L||zettalitre||Zl||ZL||Mm3||cubic megametre||10−21 L||zeptolitre||zl||zL||103 nm3||thousand cubic nanometres|
|1024 L||yottalitre||Yl||YL||103 Mm3||thousand cubic megametres||10−24 L||yoctolitre||yl||yL||nm3||cubic nanometre|
|Approx. value of 1 litre in non-metric units||Non-metric unit||Equivalent in litres|
|≈ 0.87987699||1 Imperial quart||≡ 1.1365225 L|
|≈ 1.056688||1 U.S. quart||≡ 0.946352946 L|
|≈ 1.75975399||1 Imperial pint||≡ 0.56826125 L|
|≈ 2.11337641||1 U.S. pint||≡ 0.473176473 L|
|≈ 0.21996925||1 Imperial gallon||≡ 4.54609 L|
|≈ 0.2641720523||1 U.S. gallon||≡ 3.785411784 L|
|≈ 0.0353146667||1 cubic foot||≡ 28.316846592 L|
|≈ 61.023744||1 cubic inch||≡ 0.016387064 L|
|≈ 35.19508||1 Imperial fluid ounce||≡ 28.4130625 mL|
|≈ 33.814023||1 U.S. fluid ounce||≡ 29.5735295625 mL|
One litre is slightly larger than a US liquid quart and slightly less than an imperial quart or one US dry quart. A mnemonic for its volume relative to an imperial pint is "a litre of water's a pint and three-quarters"; this is very close, as a litre is actually 1.75975399 pints.
A cubic foot has an exact volume of 28.316846592 litres.
Originally, the only symbol for the litre was l (lowercase letter L), following the SI convention that only those unit symbols that abbreviate the name of a person start with a capital letter. In many English-speaking countries, however, the most common shape of a handwritten Arabic digit 1 is just a vertical stroke; that is, it lacks the upstroke added in many other cultures. Therefore, the digit "1" may easily be confused with the letter "l". In some computer typefaces, the two characters are barely distinguishable. As a result, L (uppercase letter L) was adopted by the CIPM as an alternative symbol for litre in 1979. The United States National Institute of Standards and Technology now recommends the use of the uppercase letter L, a practice that is also widely followed in Canada and Australia. In these countries, the symbol L is also used with prefixes, as in mL and μL, instead of the traditional ml and μl used in Europe. In the UK and Ireland, as well as the rest of Europe, lowercase l is used with prefixes, though whole litres are often written in full (so, "750 ml" on a wine bottle, but often "1 litre" on a juice carton). In 1990, the International Committee for Weights and Measures stated that it was too early to choose a single symbol for the litre.
Prior to 1979, the symbol ℓ came into common use in some countries; for example, it was recommended by South African Bureau of Standards publication M33 and Canada in the 1970s. This symbol can still be encountered occasionally in some English-speaking and European countries like Germany, and its use is ubiquitous in Japan and South Korea.
Fonts covering the CJK characters usually include not only the script small ℓ but also four precomposed characters: ㎕, ㎖, ㎗, and ㎘ for the microlitre, millilitre, decilitre and kilolitre to allow correct rendering for vertically written scripts. These have Unicode equivalents for compatibility, which are not recommended for use with new documents:
The litre was introduced in France in 1795 as one of the new "republican units of measurement" and defined as one cubic decimetre. One litre of liquid water has a mass of almost exactly one kilogram, due to the gram being defined in 1795 as one cubic centimetre of water at the temperature of melting ice. The original decimetre length was 44.344 lignes, which was revised in 1798 to 44.3296 lignes. This made the original litre 1.000974 of today's cubic decimetre. It was against this litre that the kilogram was constructed.
In 1879, the CIPM adopted the definition of the litre, with the symbol l (lowercase letter L).
In 1901, at the 3rd CGPM conference, the litre was redefined as the space occupied by 1 kg of pure water at the temperature of its maximum density (3.98 °C) under a pressure of 1 atm. This made the litre equal to about 1.000028 dm3 (earlier reference works usually put it at 1.000027 dm3).
In 1964, at the 12th CGPM conference, the original definition was reverted to, and thus the litre was once again defined in exact relation to the metre, as another name for the cubic decimetre, that is, exactly 1 dm3.
In 1979, at the 16th CGPM conference, the alternative symbol L (uppercase letter L) was adopted. It also expressed a preference that in the future only one of these two symbols should be retained, but in 1990 said it was still too early to do so.
In spoken English, the symbol "mL" (for millilitre) can be pronounced as "mil". This can potentially cause confusion with some other measurement words such as:
The abbreviation "cc" (for cubic centimetre, equal to a millilitre or mL) is a unit of the cgs system, which preceded the MKS system, which later evolved into the SI system. The abbreviation "cc" is still commonly used in many fields, including medical dosage and sizing for combustion engine displacement.
In the SI system, apart from prefixes for powers of 1000, use of the "centi" (10−2), "deci" (10−1), "deca" (10+1) and "hecto" (10+2) prefixes with litres is common. For example, in many European countries, the hectolitre is the typical unit for production and export volumes of beverages (milk, beer, soft drinks, wine, etc.) and for measuring the size of the catch and quotas for fishing boats; decilitres are common in Croatia, Switzerland and Scandinavia and often found in cookbooks, and restaurant and café menus; centilitres indicate the capacity of drinking glasses and of small bottles. In colloquial Dutch in Belgium, a "vijfentwintiger" and a "drieëndertiger" (litreally "twenty-fiver" and "thirty-threer") are the common beer glasses, the corresponding bottles mention 25 cL and 33 cL. Bottles may also be 75 cL or half size at 37.5 cL for "artisanal" brews or 70 cL for wines or spirits. Cans come in 25 cL, 33 cL and 50 cL. Similarly, alcohol shots are often marked in cL in restaurant menus, typically 3 cL (1.06 imp fl oz; 1.01 US fl oz).
In countries where the metric system was adopted as the official measuring system after the SI standard was established, common usage eschews prefixes that are not powers of 1000. For example, in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, consumer beverages are labelled almost exclusively using litres and millilitres. Hectolitres sometimes appear in industry, but centilitres and decilitres are rarely, if ever, used. An exception is in pathology, where for instance blood lead level and blood sugar level may be measured in micrograms/milligrams per decilitre. Larger volumes are usually given in cubic metres (equivalent to 1 kL), or thousands or millions of cubic metres.
Although kilolitres, megalitres, and gigalitres are commonly used for measuring water consumption, reservoir capacities and river flows, for larger volumes of fluids, such as annual consumption of tap water, lorry (truck) tanks, or swimming pools, the cubic metre is the general unit. It is also generally for all volumes of a non-liquid nature.
Gramme, le poids absolu d'un volume d'eau pure égal au cube de la centième partie du mètre , et à la température de la glace fondante.English translation: "Gramme: the absolute weight of a volume of pure water equal to the cube of the hundredth part of the meter, at the temperature of melting ice."
Comment s'est appelé cet étalon de mesure avant de s'appeler le litre ? - Le Cadil [What was the name of this measurement before called being called a litre? - a Cadil].
Litre, la mesure de capacité, tant pour les liquides que pour les matières sèches, dont la contenance sera celle du cube de la dixièrne partie du mètre.English translation: "Litre: unit of capacity for both liquids and solids which will be equivalent to a cube of [with sides] one tenth of a metre."