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SI Brochure: The International System of Units (SI) [8th edition, 2006; updated in 2014]
The International System of Units (SI) and the corresponding system of quantities
SI Brochure, Section 1.2

    This Brochure is concerned with presenting the information necessary to define and use the International System of Units, universally known as the SI (from the French Système International d'Unités). The SI was established by and is defined by the General Conference on Weights and Measures, the CGPM, as described in the Historical note in Section 1.8*.

    The system of quantities, including the equations relating the quantities, to be used with the SI, is in fact just the quantities and equations of physics that are familiar to all scientists, technologists, and engineers. They are listed in many textbooks and in many references, but any such list can only be a selection of the possible quantities and equations, which is without limit. Many of the quantities, their recommended names and symbols, and the equations relating them, are listed in the International Standard 80000 of ISO and IEC, Quantities and units, composed of 14 parts and produced by Technical Committee 12 of the International Organization for Standardization, ISO/TC 12, and by Technical Committee 25 of the International Electrotechnical Commission, IEC/TC 25. In the ISO and IEC 80000 series the quantities and equations used with the SI are known as the International System of Quantities.

    The base quantities used in the SI are length, mass, time, electric current, thermodynamic temperature, amount of substance, and luminous intensity. The base quantities are by convention assumed to be independent. The corresponding base units of the SI were chosen by the CGPM to be the metre, the kilogram, the second, the ampere, the kelvin, the mole, and the candela. The definitions of these base units are presented in Section 2.1.1 in the following chapter. The derived units of the SI are then formed as products of powers of the base units, according to the algebraic relations that define the corresponding derived quantities in terms of the base quantities, see Section 1.4.

    On rare occasions a choice may arise between different forms of the relations between the quantities. An important example occurs in defining the electromagnetic quantities. In this case the rationalized four-quantity electromagnetic equations used with the SI are based on length, mass, time, and electric current. In these equations, the electric constant epsilon0 (the permittivity of vacuum) and the magnetic constant mu0 (the permeability of vacuum) have dimensions and values such that epsilon0mu0 = 1/c02, where c0 is the speed of light in vacuum. The Coulomb law of electrostatic force between two particles with charges q1 and q2 separated by a distance r is written**

    F =
    q1q2 r
    4piepsilon0 r3

    and the corresponding equation for the magnetic force between two thin wire elements carrying electric currents, i1dl1 and i2dl2, is written

    d2F =
    i1dl1 x (i2dl2 x r)

    where d2F is the double differential of the force F. These equations, on which the SI is based, are different from those used in the CGS-ESU, CGS-EMU, and CGS-Gaussian systems, where epsilon0 and mu0 are dimensionless quantities, chosen to be equal to one, and where the rationalizing factors of 4pi are omitted.

    * Acronyms used in this Brochure are listed with their meaning here.
    ** Symbols in bold print are used to denote vectors.
    back to Contents

We are pleased to present the updated (2014) 8th edition of the SI Brochure, which defines and presents the Système International d'Unités, the SI (known in English as the International System of Units).

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: SI units

Chapter 3: Decimal multiples and submultiples of SI units

  • SI prefixes
  • Factor Name Symbol Factor Name Symbol
    101 deca da 10–1 deci d
    102 hecto h 10–2 centi c
    103 kilo k 10–3 milli m
    106 mega M 10–6 micro µ
    109 giga G 10–9 nano n
    1012 tera T 10–12 pico p
    1015 peta P 10–15 femto f
    1018 exa E 10–18 atto a
    1021 zetta Z 10–21 zepto z
    1024 yotta Y 10–24 yocto y
  • The kilogram

Chapter 4: Units outside the SI

Chapter 5: Writing unit symbols and names, and expressing the values of quantities

General principles for the writing of unit symbols and numbers were first given by the 9th CGPM (1948, Resolution 7). These were subsequently elaborated by ISO, IEC, and other international bodies. As a consequence, there now exists a general consensus on how unit symbols and names, including prefix symbols and names, as well as quantity symbols should be written and used, and how the values of quantities should be expressed. Compliance with these rules and style conventions, the most important of which are presented in this chapter, supports the readability of scientific and technical papers.

Appendix 1: Decisions of the CGPM and the CIPM

This appendix lists those decisions of the CGPM and the CIPM that bear directly upon definitions of the units of the SI, prefixes defined for use as part of the SI, and conventions for the writing of unit symbols and numbers. It is not a complete list of CGPM and CIPM decisions. For a complete list, reference must be made to the BIPM website, successive volumes of the Comptes Rendus des Séances de la Conférence Générale des Poids et Mesures (CR) and Procès-Verbaux des Séances du Comité International des Poids et Mesures (PV) or, for recent decisions, to Metrologia.

Since the SI is not a static convention, but evolves following developments in the science of measurement, some decisions have been abrogated or modified; others have been clarified by additions. In the SI Brochure, a number of notes have been added by the BIPM to make the text more understandable; they do not form part of the original text.

In the printed brochure, the decisions of the CGPM and CIPM are listed in strict chronological order in order to preserve the continuity with which they were taken. However in order to make it easy to locate decisions related to particular topics a table of contents is also provided, ordered by subject:

Appendix 2: Practical realization of the definitions of some important units

Appendix 3: Units for photochemical and photobiological quantities

Optical radiation is able to cause chemical changes in certain living or non-living materials: this property is called actinism, and radiation capable of causing such changes is referred to as actinic radiation. Actinic radiation has the fundamental characteristic that, at the molecular level, one photon interacts with one molecule to alter or break the molecule into new molecular species. It is therefore possible to define specific photochemical or photobiological quantities in terms of the result of optical radiation on the associated chemical or biological receptors.

In the field of metrology, the only photobiological quantity which has been formally defined for measurement in the SI is for the interaction of light with the human eye in vision. An SI base unit, the candela, has been defined for this important photobiological quantity. Several other photometric quantities with units derived from the candela have also been defined (such as the lumen and the lux, see Table 3 in Chapter 2).