Tonne, ton and ton: weighing up the difference

Whether you adhere to metric or imperial measurement, it’s a must to know the difference between the tons.

Here in Australia we follow the metric system, kilometres, kilograms and kilolitres, but for reasons of sentimentality we measure our own height and weight in the “old” scale – feet and inches, and stone and ounces respectively.

We also straddled the fence between US and UK English, preferring -ise endings to -ize but happy to drop the u in color and flavor. This isn’t a “rule” as such, and Aussie dictionaries will always give the UK variant first, but years of newspaper style has had an impact.

So when confronted with mention of tons I’m left scratching my head. Did the author mean a US ton or a UK ton, or do they just not realise that tonne is spelled such?

For the equally confused among you, here are the differences:

US ton: 2000 pounds, 907 kilograms

Tonne: 1000 kilograms

UK ton: 2240 pounds, 1016 kilograms

In general correspondence, when ton is used to describe a heavy item rather than its precise weight, if probably doesn’t matter, but the pedant in me insists on correct use – every time.

For those interested in this sort of thing, the US ton is often referred to as a short ton, while the UK one as the long ton. But to confuse matters, the US ton is also called a “metric” ton, which it clearly isn’t.

Who said English was easy?


Further reading:
Wikipedia has a good entry on all uses of ton, including my favourite – deadweight ton
Tonne came well before ton, says the Online Etymology Dictionary
Grammarist provides examples of usage

Other MichCommunication posts you may find interesting:
When is a billion a billion
Bimonthly, biweekly, it’s enough to drive me insane
Compared with vs compared to, it’s enough to drive me insane

Posted in Clear communication, Words and language Tagged with:
3 comments on “Tonne, ton and ton: weighing up the difference
  1. Angela says:

    I would SERIOUSLY have to beg to differ! NEVER have I seen an Aussie spell without a U in colour or flavour or honour. Never.

    Nor do we ever use stones/pounds to weigh things. Except maybe with a baby. I wouldn’t have the foggiest clue how many stones or pounds I am. Or how many stones are even in a pound or is it the other way around? No clue. Even with babies, the hospital never provides the weight in the old imperial system. Just the older generations (and I am almost 40) may still use the system they grew up with before conversion.

  2. Ren says:

    What?? Here in Australia we do NOT drop the ‘u’ in colour. Nor do we ever use stones/pounds to weigh things. Ever. We occasionally use feet/inches to measure, but that’s because it’s easier to say “I’m 6 feet” than “I’m 182.88 centimetres”. Australian English pretty much follows British English. End of story. If any Aussie journo ever uses the word ‘color’, then they’ve made a mistake and the editor has failed to pick it up.

  3. Jon G. says:

    As far as I know the US ton is NOT also called a “metric ton”. It is the “Tonne” that is the metric ton.

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