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Average velocity

Average velocity is displacement (change in position) divided by the time of travel ,

v - = Δ x Δ t = x f x 0 t f t 0 , size 12{ { bar {v}}= { {Δx} over {Δt} } = { {x rSub { size 8{f} } - x rSub { size 8{0} } } over {t rSub { size 8{f} } - t rSub { size 8{0} } } } ,} {}

where v - size 12{ { bar {v}}} {} is the average (indicated by the bar over the v ) velocity, Δ x is the change in position (or displacement), and x f and x 0 are the final and beginning positions at times t f and t 0 , respectively. If the starting time t 0 is taken to be zero, then the average velocity is simply

v - = Δ x t . size 12{ { bar {v}}= { {Δx} over {t} } "." } {}

Notice that this definition indicates that velocity is a vector because displacement is a vector . It has both magnitude and direction. The SI unit for velocity is meters per second or m/s, but many other units, such as km/h, mi/h (also written as mph), and cm/s, are in common use. Suppose, for example, an airplane passenger took 5 seconds to move −4 m (the negative sign indicates that displacement is toward the back of the plane). His average velocity would be

v - = Δ x t = 4 m 5 s = 0.8 m/s. size 12{ { bar {v}}= { {Δx} over {t} } = { { - 4`m} over {5`s} } = - 0 "." 8`"m/s" "." } {}

The minus sign indicates the average velocity is also toward the rear of the plane.

The average velocity of an object does not tell us anything about what happens to it between the starting point and ending point, however. For example, we cannot tell from average velocity whether the airplane passenger stops momentarily or backs up before he goes to the back of the plane. To get more details, we must consider smaller segments of the trip over smaller time intervals.

Airplane shown from the outside. Vector arrows show paths of each individual segment of the passenger’s trip to the back of the plane.
A more detailed record of an airplane passenger heading toward the back of the plane, showing smaller segments of his trip.

The smaller the time intervals considered in a motion, the more detailed the information. When we carry this process to its logical conclusion, we are left with an infinitesimally small interval. Over such an interval, the average velocity becomes the instantaneous velocity or the velocity at a specific instant . A car’s speedometer, for example, shows the magnitude (but not the direction) of the instantaneous velocity of the car. (Police give tickets based on instantaneous velocity, but when calculating how long it will take to get from one place to another on a road trip, you need to use average velocity.) Instantaneous velocity v size 12{v} {} is the average velocity at a specific instant in time (or over an infinitesimally small time interval).

Mathematically, finding instantaneous velocity, v size 12{v} {} , at a precise instant t size 12{t} {} can involve taking a limit, a calculus operation beyond the scope of this text. However, under many circumstances, we can find precise values for instantaneous velocity without calculus.


In everyday language, most people use the terms “speed” and “velocity” interchangeably. In physics, however, they do not have the same meaning and they are distinct concepts. One major difference is that speed has no direction. Thus speed is a scalar . Just as we need to distinguish between instantaneous velocity and average velocity, we also need to distinguish between instantaneous speed and average speed.

Instantaneous speed is the magnitude of instantaneous velocity. For example, suppose the airplane passenger at one instant had an instantaneous velocity of −3.0 m/s (the minus meaning toward the rear of the plane). At that same time his instantaneous speed was 3.0 m/s. Or suppose that at one time during a shopping trip your instantaneous velocity is 40 km/h due north. Your instantaneous speed at that instant would be 40 km/h—the same magnitude but without a direction. Average speed, however, is very different from average velocity. Average speed is the distance traveled divided by elapsed time.

Questions & Answers

what happens when an unstoppable force collides an immovable object?
Mavis Reply
a radioactive nuclei of mass 6.0g has a half life of 8days. calculate during which 5.25g of the nuclei would have decay
Calculate the Newton's the weight of a 2.5 Kilogram of melon. What is its weight in pound?
Rialyn Reply
calculate the tension of the cable when a buoy with 0.5m and mass of 20kg
Iga Reply
what is displacement
Nyamza Reply
it's the time rate of change of distance
distance in a given direction is diplacement
Distance in a spacified direction
you shouldn't say distance,displacement and distance are two different things .distance can be lopped curved but displacement is always in a straight line so you can't use distance to define it. displacement is the change of position in a specified direction.
Well stayed josh👍
thank you gift.
well explained
what is the meaning of physics
Alausa Reply
to study objects in motion and how they interact or take part in the natural phenomenon of the universe.
an object that has a small mass and an object has a large mase have the same momentum which has high kinetic energy
Faith Reply
The with smaller mass
Since you said they have the same momentum.. So meaning that there is more like an inverse proportionality in the quantities used to find the momentum. We are told that the the is a larger mass and a smaller mass., so we can conclude that the smaller mass had higher velocity as compared to other one
Mathamaticaly correct
Mathmaticaly correct :)
I have proven it by using my own values
Larger mass=4g Smaller mass=2g Momentum of both=8 Meaning V for L =2 and V for S=4 Now find there kinetic energies using the data presented
grateful soul...thanks alot
2 stones are thrown vertically upward from the ground, one with 3 times the initial speed of the other. If the faster stone takes 10 s to return to the ground, how long will it take the slower stone to return? If the slower stone reaches a maximum height of H, how high will the faster stone go
Julliene Reply
how can i calculate it's height
is speed the same as velocity
Faith Reply
in a question i ought to find the momentum but was given just mass and speed
just multiply mass and speed then you have the magnitude of momentem
Consider speed to be velocity
it worked our . . thanks
Distinguish between semi conductor and extrinsic conductors
Okame Reply
Suppose that a grandfather clock is running slowly; that is, the time it takes to complete each cycle is longer than it should be. Should you (@) shorten or (b) lengthen the pendulam to make the clock keep attain the preferred time?
Aj Reply
I think you shorten am not sure
shorten it, since that is practice able using the simple pendulum as experiment
it'll always give the results needed no need to adjust the length, it is always measured by the starting time and ending time by the clock
it's not in relation to other clocks
wat is d formular for newton's third principle
shorten the pendulum string because the difference in length affects the time of oscillation.if short , the time taken will be adjusted.but if long ,the time taken will be twice the previous cycle.
discuss under damped
Prince Reply
resistance of thermometer in relation to temperature
Ifeanyi Reply
that resistance is not measured yet, it may be probably in the next generation of scientists
Is fundamental quantities under physical quantities?
Igwe Reply
please I didn't not understand the concept of the physical therapy
John Reply
physiotherapy - it's a practice of exercising for healthy living.
what chapter is this?
this is not in this book, it's from other experiences.
am new in the group
Practice Key Terms 7

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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