5 More Tips for Understanding Weights and Measures

How much is a gram? An ounce? Or a ton? If you don't have an intuitive feel for exactly how much mass these quantities represent, keep on reading!

Jason Marshall, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #210

DumbellsA few weeks ago, I realized that I have pretty much zero intuition about how much a gram weighs. I know—kind of tragic, right?

Nope, not tragic at all. In fact, I see it as an opportunity, because whenever I stumble upon something like this that I don't know, I'm a fan of figuring it out.

So, if you're at all like me and are not exactly sure just how heavy grams, ounces, pounds, stones, and tons are, then you're in luck! Because that's exactly what we'll be talking about today.


Tip 1: Grams and Paper Clips

Let's kick things off by clearing up my, perhaps your, and certainly everybody else's uncertainty about exactly how much 1 gram weighs. As we've learned in a discussion of mass versus weight, I've actually confused the issue a bit in the previous sentence by proclaiming the gram to be a measure of weight—of course, it's more properly dubbed a measure of mass. So, with that in mind, how much mass is 1 gram?

1 gram is about the mass of a metal paperclip.

The quick and dirty comparison to keep in your head is that 1 gram is about the mass of a metal paperclip. Or, if you prefer, it's about the mass of a US dollar bill. As these comparisons show, 1 gram isn't much mass at all—at least by everyday standards. Although if you're a proton, you'd actually think that 1 gram is a huge mass, since a proton's mass is only about 1 trillion trillionth of a gram.

The gram is the fundamental unit of mass in the metric system, but you'll often hear masses measured in kilograms, too. A kilogram is simply 1,000 grams, which turns out to be pretty close to the mass of a pair of soccer balls.

Tip 2: Ounces and Pencils

As you'll remember from last week's show about the units we use to measure volume, the word "ounce" can refer to either a volume or a mass measurement. As we learned, the volumey kind of ounce is actually called the "fluid ounce," so there really isn't all that much cause for confusion.

As we also learned, the quick and dirty way to think about ounces is to know that a pencil and an empty soda can each weigh about 0.5 oz., and a tennis ball weighs about 2 oz. If you want a more direct comparison, a slice of normal sandwich bread has a mass of roughly 1 ounce.

Ounces are the primary unit of mass used in the U.S. and a few other parts of the world—i.e., everywhere that isn't metric. If you're wondering how an ounce compares to a gram, it turns out that 1 ounce is a lot more mass than 1 gram. In fact, 1 ounce is approximately equal to 28.35 grams.


About the Author

Jason Marshall, PhD

Jason Marshall is the author of The Math Dude's Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. He provides clear explanations of math terms and principles, and his simple tricks for solving basic algebra problems will have even the most math-phobic person looking forward to working out whatever math problem comes their way.