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Capacity refers to the amount that can be held in a container. Capacity can be measured in metric units or in U.S. customary units.

Metric Units

The standard metric unit of capacity is the liter.

From the liter, we get the rest of the metric units using the standard metric prefixes.


10 milliliters (ml)

Deciliters (dl)

10 centiliters or 100 milliliters

Liter (l)

10 deciliters or 1,000 milliliters

Dekaliter (dal)

10 liters

Hectoliter (hl)

10 dekaliters or 100 liters

Kiloliter (kl)

10 hectoliters or 1,000 liters

Math diagram

The eye dropper in the figure has a 2 ml of liquid.

U.S. Customary Units

The system for measuring capacity in the customary system is based on cup, fluid ounces, pint, quart and gallon.

In the figure shown, 2 cups of water is equal to 1 pint.

Math diagram

The most commonly used customary units of capacity are shown.

1 fluid ounce (fl oz) 2 tablespoons of water
1 cup (c) = 8 fluid ounce (fl oz ) coffee cup
1 pint (pt) = 2 cups small ice cream container

1 quart (qt) = 2 pints

large liquid measuring cup

1 gallon (gal) = 4 quarts

large plastic jug of milk

To convert from one unit to another, we can use unit analysis . For Example, a glass of milk is greater than an eyedropper and less than a small pitcher. Then estimate the capacity of glass of milk.

Math diagram

We know that, 1 liter = 1,000 milliliters.

A small pitcher can fill about 4 glasses.

One estimate for the capacity of a glass of milk is about 1 , 000 ÷ 4 or 250 milliliters.


( a ) To convert from larger units to smaller units, multiply by the appropriate unit ratio.

( b ) To convert from smaller units to larger units, multiply by the reciprocal of the appropriate unit ratio.

( c ) Multiplying or dividing by a unit ratio is mathematically equivalent to using a proportion to convert between units of measure .


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