Distance and displacement

There is a difference between distance and displacement. Take a close look at the following illustration that will clearly show the difference between the two.


As you can see in the illustration above, the displacement is the straight-line path between home and school.

The green path or the red path on the other hand is the distance or distance traveled.

Did you notice that the magnitude of the displacement is not always the same as the distance traveled?

In fact, the displacement is the shortest path from one location to another with no left turn, right turn, or going around a curve.

Notice that when something is being displaced, it will have a direction associated with it. Therefore, displacement is a vector. 


Displacement is the magnitude and direction of the straight line connecting some initial point to a final point.

Mathematical representation of displacement and formula

To represent displacement, the letter s is used with an arrow of top of the s as shown below.


Displacement = final position - initial position

Let Xf = final position and Xi = initial position

Displacement = Xf - Xi

Distance and displacement quiz

This distance and displacement quiz will help you clearly see the difference between distance and displacement. You will not need to use a paper and pencil to complete this quiz.

First, read this lesson about distance and displacement and then take this quiz.

Objective of the quiz:

  • Identify the formula for displacement.
  • Relate distance and displacement to real life problems.
  • Use graphs to find distance and displacement.
  • Know the meaning of shortest path.

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