Word Choice: Ton vs. Tonne

Word Choice Ton vs. Tonne

We have a ton of proofreading to do right now! Or should that be a “tonne”? You may have seen both spellings used. But do they refer to the same thing? Not exactly. Check out our guide below to make sure you know how to use the spellings “ton” and “tonne” correctly.

Ton (Measure of Mass = 2,000 lbs)

In the USA, a “ton” is a measure of mass equivalent to 2,000 lbs or 907.18474 kg. You would therefore use this term to refer to a heavy weight of some kind:

The elephant weighed three tons.

More colloquially, a “ton” can be any large amount of something. For instance:

If you spell this word wrong, I’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks!

This doesn’t mean exactly 2,000 lbs of bricks. Rather, when we say a “ton” of something, we simply mean a heavy weight. As such, it is like the “ton” of proofreading mentioned at the start of this post!

Tonne (Metric Measurement = 2,204.6 lbs)

A “tonne” is a metric unit of measurement. As with our ton, it measures mass, but a metric tonne weighs 1,000 kg (or 2,204.6 lbs). It is therefore slightly lighter than a ton. And unlike “ton,” we would not usually use this word to mean “a lot of” something. For example, we wouldn’t refer to a “tonne of bricks” even though “like a ton of bricks” is a common saying.

More generally, you shouldn’t need to use this spelling in US English at all, even if you are using the metric system! For example, we would typically call a weight equivalent to 2,204.6 lbs a “metric ton” in Mmerican English.

Tons Around the World

As shown above, the distinction between a “ton” and a “tonne” is simple in the US. However, the word “ton” also denotes other weights in other countries.

For instance, a “ton” equivalent to 1,016.047 kg (or 2,240 lbs) in the UK and other countries that use Imperial measurements. In the USA, this weight is more often called a “long ton” or an “imperial ton.” The standard American ton, meanwhile, is known as a “short ton” outside the US.

Thus, if you’re writing for an audience outside the US, remember:

  • “Ton” usually refers to a “long” or “imperial ton” (1,016.047 kg or 2,240 lbs).
  • A “metric ton” is usually known as a “tonne” (1,000 kg or 2,204.6 lbs).
  • The US “ton” is known as a “short ton” (907.18474 kg or 2,000 lbs).

Why have English speakers in various places used the same word for so many different measures? We couldn’t find a good explanation, so we assume it’s purely to make spelling these words a living nightmare.

Summary: Ton vs. Tonne

Typically, in American English, the only spelling you will need is “ton.” This refers to a measure of mass equivalent to 2,000 lbs. The word “tonne” is a non-US spelling for what we call a “metric ton.”

However, keep in mind that “ton” has different meanings outside the US. In the UK and many other English-speaking countries, for instance, a ton is equivalent to 2,240 lbs. As a result, you should take care when using the word “ton” in a text aimed at an international audience.

Hopefully, this has helped you understand the difference between these terms! However, since typos are still easy to miss, don’t forget to have your written documents checked by the experts.

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