Difference between Square Metres and Metres Squared

This post is about the mispronounciation of the SI unit for area, (m²). This is said square metre. I am not wrong, I am not daft and I want the world to say it properly.

Updated 04/09/2024 (thanks Tim)

This is what I’ve been missing to add in! You can’t now say this is wrong.

4 m2

The diagram above shows four square metres or 4 m2. If you looked at the length of each side it would be 2 m long! QED!

Updated 13/05/2023 (see below)

Metre is the unit of length in the SI system and square metre is the SI units for calculating area.  The confusion arises when we see square metre written or spoken. People cannot make out the difference between square metre and metres squared and assume they are the same, which they are not!

For example

If a square room has a length of 2 metres and is 2 metres in breadth, you can easily calculate its area with this formula.

The room has an area of 4 square metres, 4 m2.

If you say that this is 4 metres squared what you mean is an area which has the length of 4 metres and you are multiplying it by a breadth of 4 metres which would give you an area of 16 square metres.

So if someone asks you the correct area of the room mentioned originally, you should say that the area is 4 square metres  or 2 metres square both of which are correct answers, but the 4 m2, 4 square metres is standard.

• But beware more confusion arises as 1 m × 1 m = 1 square metres while 1 metre squared is also the same size as 12 = 1 metre square. You just get there by different routes.

Even though the unit looks like it is written as metres squared you pronounce it square metre.

Hope this clears any confusion you might have on this one!

Actually I ought to put a post script in!

The same applies to volumes
The correct SI unit for volume is cubic metres, (or in Chemistry they might use cubic centimetres). If you say metres cubed you mean that this is the length of one side and you need to cube this value to get the volume.

This cube could be described as 125 cubic centimetres or 5 centimetres cubed.

I wasn’t sure that I ought to have posted this, but it looks like it is less well understood than I imagined, definitely my only popular post!

Just to show I am right, here is the page from the NPL site. The people in the UK responsible for measuring.

March 2024

For those in the US, here is the equivalent link https://www.nist.gov/pml/owm/metric-si/si-units-area

Thanks to Andy and Gareth Lewis Maths tuition for these additional thoughts.

Hi, the examples that you have given for metre square and square metre are incorrect.
2 metre square = 4 square metre (2×2=4)
2 square metre = 1 metre x 2 metre (1×2=2)

Andy

XxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxX

Good article. Andy’s alternative examples are also correct.

As well as the difference in size between square metres and metres squared (except when you have zero of each or one of each) there is a difference in shape. A metre square is a square with sides one metre in length – it refers to the shape and the side length, not the area. By contrast, a square metre is an area and can be any shape. A square metre could, for example, be in the shape of an oblong of dimensions 50cm x 2m, or in the shape of an A0 sheet, or 16 A4 sheets in any pattern.

After all the comments on here I decided to contact the people who know this stuff as metrology  is their business.

So I contacted the NPL (National Physical Laboratory), this is

Andrew Hanson, MBE BSc (Hons) CPhys, Outreach Manager, National Physical Laboratory, Hampton Rd | Teddington | Middlesex | UK | TW11 0LW

From P162 of the SI Brochure (most recent – 9th edition 2019), the area unit definition is:

NAME: square metre

SYMBOL: m2

Almost certainly unchanged from when you first wrote your blog item.

As an example from the definition, spoken ‘9 square metres’, written ‘9 m2‘ are both 9 times the area of the unitary square metre.

The confusion arises from reading m2 as the words ‘metres squared’. These words are NOT defined in the SI system. So with no formal meaning, ‘9 metres squared’ could indeed be taken to mean 9×9 m2 or 9 m2 – there is no definitive statement one way or the other.

I think that m2 should be said out loud as ‘square metres’, so don’t take your blog item down, by all means say I agree.

Actually, if you just do the right/formal thing – use the words ‘square metre’ out loud and write as m2, and never, never even whisper ‘metre squared’, there is NO CONFUSION.

A formal way to do describe things with well defined, precise, scientific language avoids the types of problem you describe.

However, common parlance is commonly improperly used to describe scientific parameters, and these words without clear meaning cause confusion.

Most people don’t discriminate – though metrologists, and people who set and mark exam papers take care to get it right.

I am sure people passionate about English who know dictionary meaning of words are similarly riled by common misuse.

For those in the US, https://www.nist.gov/pml/owm/metric-si/si-units-area

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