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# The Meaning of Force http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/newtlaw...

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The Physics Classroom(/) » Physics Tutorial(/class) » Newton's Laws(/Physics-Tutorial/Newton-s-Laws) » The Meaning of Force
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Newton's
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The Meaning of Force
Tutorial/Newton-
s-Laws) The Meaning of Force
Vectors - Motion and Types of Forces(/class/newtlaws/Lesson-2/Types-of-Forces)
Forces in Two Drawing Free-Body Diagrams(/class/newtlaws/Lesson-2/Drawing-Free-Body-Diagrams)
Dimensions(/class
/vectors) Determining the Net Force(/class/newtlaws/Lesson-2/Determining-the-Net-Force)
Momentum and Its
Conservation(/class A force is a push or pull upon an object resulting from the object's interaction with another object.
/momentum) Whenever there is an interaction between two objects, there is a force upon each of the objects.
Work, Energy, and When the interaction ceases, the two objects no longer experience the force. Forces only exist as a
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result of an interaction.
Circular Motion and
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Thermal
Physics(/class
/thermalP) Contact versus Action-at-a-Distance Forces
Static
Electricity(/class For simplicity sake, all forces (interactions) between objects can be placed into two broad
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categories:
Current
Electricity(/class contact forces, and
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forces resulting from action-at-a-distance
Waves(/class/waves)
Sound Waves and Contact forces are those types of forces that result when the two interacting objects are perceived
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to be physically contacting each other. Examples of contact forces include frictional forces,
Light Waves and
Color(/class/light) tensional forces, normal forces, air resistance forces, and applied forces. These speciﬁc forces will
Reflection and the be discussed in more detail later in Lesson 2(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/newtlaws
Ray Model of /u2l2b.cfm) as well as in other lessons.
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Refraction and the Action-at-a-distance forces are those types of forces that result even when the two interacting
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objects are not in physical contact with each other, yet are able to exert a push or pull despite their
physical separation. Examples of action-at-a-distance forces include gravitational forces. For Follow Us
example, the sun and planets exert a gravitational pull(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class
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/circles/u6l3c.cfm) on each other despite their large spatial separation. Even when your feet leave (http://www.facebook.com
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between you and the Earth. Electric forces are action-at-a-distance forces. For example, the /11080072299501993
protons in the nucleus of an atom and the electrons outside the nucleus experience an electrical /11080072299501993
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pull towards each other despite their small spatial separation. And magnetic forces are action-at-
a-distance forces. For example, two magnets can exert a magnetic pull on each other even when
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separated by a distance of a few centimeters. These speciﬁc forces will be discussed in more detail
later in Lesson 2(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/newtlaws/u2l2b.cfm) as well as in other
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lessons.
Examples of contact and action-at-distance forces are listed in the table below.
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## Contact Forces Action-at-a-Distance Forces

Minds On Physics - Legacy(/mop)
Frictional Force Gravitational Force
Tension Force Electrical Force
Normal Force Magnetic Force
Air Resistance Force
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Applied Force
Spring Force
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1 of 2 Force is a quantity that is measured using the standard metric unit known as the Newton. A 23/04/18, 12:48
1 Newton = 1 kg • m/s2
The Meaning of Force
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Force is a Vector Quantity
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A force is a vector quantity. As learned in an earlier unit(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class
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/1DKin/U1L1b.cfm), a vector quantity is a quantity that has both magnitude and direction. To fully
describe the force acting upon an object, you must describe both the magnitude (size or numerical
value) and the direction. Thus, 10 Newton is not a full description of the force acting upon an
object. In contrast, 10 Newton, downward is a complete description of the force acting upon an
object; both the magnitude (10 Newton) and the direction (downward) are given.
Because a force is a vector that has a direction, it is common to represent
forces using diagrams in which a force is represented by an arrow. Such
vector diagrams were introduced in an earlier
unit(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/1DKin/U1L2c.cfm) and are
used throughout the study of physics. The size of the arrow is reﬂective of
the magnitude of the force and the direction of the arrow reveals the
direction that the force is acting. (Such diagrams are known as free-body
diagrams and are discussed later in this lesson(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/newtlaws
/u2l2c.cfm).) Furthermore, because forces are vectors, the effect of an individual force upon an
object is often canceled by the effect of another force. For example, the effect of a 20-Newton
upward force acting upon a book is canceled by the effect of a 20-Newton downward force acting
upon the book. In such instances, it is said that the two individual forces balance each other; there
would be no unbalanced force(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/newtlaws
/u2l1d.cfm#balanced) acting upon the book.

## Other situations could be imagined in which two of the individual

vector forces cancel each other ("balance"), yet a third individual force
exists that is not balanced by another force. For example, imagine a
book sliding across the rough surface of a table from left to right. The
downward force of gravity and the upward force of the table
supporting the book act in opposite directions and thus balance each
other. However, the force of friction acts leftwards, and there is no
rightward force to balance it. In this case, an unbalanced
force(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/newtlaws/u2l1d.cfm#balanced) acts upon the book
to change its state of motion(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/newtlaws/u2l1c.cfm#state).

## The exact details of drawing free-body diagrams are discussed

later(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/newtlaws/u2l2c.cfm). For now, the emphasis is upon
the fact that a force is a vector quantity that has a direction. The importance of this fact will
become clear as we analyze the individual forces acting upon an object later in this
lesson(http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/newtlaws/u2l2c.cfm).