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

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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
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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).

Next Section: Types of Forces(/class/newtlaws/Lesson-2/Types-of-Forces)


Jump To Next Lesson: Newton's Second Law(/class/newtlaws/Lesson-3/Newton-s-Second-Law)

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2 of 2 23/04/18, 12:48