Basic Metric System Unit Abbreviations

, Staff Writer
Updated March 5, 2020
Measuring cup with liter measurements
    Measuring cup with liter measurements
    Leigh Righton / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Confused by abbreviations for metric system units? To keep them all straight, get a basic breakdown of metric unit abbreviations for length, weight and volume. Then, you can learn metric abbreviations for data, power and temperature, too. By the time you’re done, you’ll have the basic metric system unit abbreviations down to a science.

Understanding Metric System Abbreviations

Did your school project say that you need 5 ml? Are you staring at it curiously wondering what a “ml” is? The abbreviation “ml” stands for milliliter in the metric system. The metric system is used all over the world. However, in America, US customary units are more commonly used. If you are trying to convert between the two, knowing the metric abbreviations can save you a lot of hassle.

Find out the basic metric abbreviations along with other useful metric abbreviations that you might encounter in your studies.


Basic Metric Abbreviations and Prefixes

In the metric system, there are three basic units to measure length, volume and weight (mass). You have the meter (m) for length, liter (l) for volume and gram (g) for weight. Each of these units are then broken down into smaller or bigger units using metric prefixes.

  • Giga - G (1,000,000,000)
  • Mega - M (1,000,000)
  • Kilo - k (1,000)
  • Hecto - h (100)
  • Deka/deca - da (10)
  • Deci - d (1/10)
  • Centi - c (1/100)
  • Milli - m (1/1000)
  • Micro - μ (1/1,000,000)
  • Nano - n (1/1,000,000,000)

The prefixes have the same meaning for each of the measurement units. For example, a kilogram is 1,000 grams and a kiloliter is 1,000 liters.

Metric Abbreviations for Length

Now that you know the basic units and their prefixes, it is just a matter of putting the two together to create your different metric abbreviations. Starting with length, the meter (m) is your base unit. Then, you add the appropriate prefix for the corresponding metric measurement.

  • Kilometer - km
  • Square kilometer - km²
  • Hectometer - hm
  • Decameter (or dekameter) - dam
  • Meter - m
  • Decimeter - dm
  • Cubic decimeter - dm³
  • Centimeter - cm
  • Cubic centimeter - cm³
  • Millimeter - mm

With most basic metric abbreviations, you’ll include the prefix letter with the unit of measure. The noted exception is “deka” or “deca.” For example, the abbreviation for “decameter” is “dam.” This is because “dm” already stands for “decimeter.”


Metric Abbreviations for Volume

Just as the meter (m) is the base measurement for length in the metric system, the liter (l) is the base measurement for volume.

  • Kiloliter - kl
  • Hectoliter - hl
  • Decaliter (or dekaliter) - dal
  • Liter - l
  • Deciliter - dl
  • Centiliter - cl
  • Milliliter - ml

Metric Abbreviations for Weight

For weight, the base measurement in the metric system is the gram (g). Add prefixes as you did above for meters and liters.

  • Kilogram - kg
  • Hectogram - hg
  • Dekagram (or dekagram) - dag
  • Gram - g
  • Decigram - dg
  • Centigram - cg
  • Milligram - mg

Temperature Abbreviations for a Metric Unit

While length, weight and volume cover the basics, there are other units of measurements that are just as important. In America, you might be familiar with the Fahrenheit system for temperature, but the metric system uses Celsius and Kelvin.

The metric abbreviations for these are:

  • Kelvin - K
  • Celsius - C

To quickly convert between systems of measurement, use the Celsius to Fahrenheit converter on our sister site


Metric Data Measurement Abbreviations

If you’ve ever touched a computer, you’ve probably come across bits and bytes. You might not have known what that “b” or “B” stood for, but that is where learning computer storage abbreviations can help. Dive into the abbreviations from bits to exabytes.

  • Bit - b
  • Byte - B
  • Kilobyte - KB (1,000 bytes)
  • Megabyte - MB (1,000 KB)
  • Gigabyte - GB (1,000 MB)
  • Terabyte - TB (1,000 GB)
  • Petabyte - PB (1,000 TB)
  • Exabyte - EB (1,000 PB)

In the standard decimal system, each unit is equal to 1,000 of the previous units. However, in the traditional binary system, each unit is equal to 1,024 of the previous units. This is because 1,024 equals 2 to the 10th power (210).

Power Abbreviations for Metric Units

One other area where you’ll come across metric system abbreviations is in the context of power, energy and electricity. These abbreviations include:

  • Watt - W
  • Kilowatt - kW
  • Kilowatt-hour - kWh
  • Gigawatt - GW
  • Amp - A
  • Milliamp - mA
  • Milliamp-hour - mAh
  • Volt - V

Metric System Abbreviation Basics

Once you get the basic system down, understanding the way that metric abbreviations are created isn’t so hard. Now that you have a good understanding of abbreviations used in the metric system, you might want to learn how abbreviations are different from acronyms. Did you know an abbreviation can become a whole new word? Imagine that!