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Converting lengths, English to metric and back, made easier

Updated on November 26, 2011

There are many sites on the web that will convert meters to feet, kilometers to miles, or centimeters to inches just enter your search into google,, but if you are a student and need to understand the process or show your work, having just the conversion value isn’t enough.

So how do you convert something between metric to English without remembering all the conversion factors? The answer is to pick one that is easy to remember.One of the most common conversion factors between metric and english is inches to centimeters. The conversion factor is: 1 inch = 2.54 centimeters

With this one conversion factor we can convert between metric to English and back by convert to these values and then to the value you are looking for. As an example, if you want to convert 20 feet to meters, you’ll want to start by converting feet to inches. It is common knowledge that there are 12 inches in a foot. Below is this calculation written as our first algebraic step:

This will give you the number of inches. Now you can convert from English to metric using our inches to centimeters conversion factor from earlier. The algebraic step is shown below:

Lastly, you need to convert from centimeters to meters.While the English system may be a little difficult to remember, metric is pretty easy because metric is based on units of 10. Please see the Metric Prefix Table we’ve included if you aren’t familiar with the most common metric prefixes.

Now that you refreshed yourself on the metric prefixes, you can create the conversion below:

Congratulations, you have now converted 20 feet to meters! With that, you can combine the steps above into one step. The combined steps are shown below:

To go from meters to feet it is a similar process, just reversed.The combined steps, converting 10 meters to feet, as an example, are shown below:

Being able to see the individual steps involved then combining them and using a common conversion factor can make something fairly complex, much easier to learn and understand. Before you know it, you’ll be teaching others how easy it is to do!


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