Table of Contents

## Introduction

Acceleration is a change in velocity or speed. Acceleration is technically a vector quantity because it has both magnitude and direction. The SI unit for acceleration is meters per second squared (m/s2). In this article, we’ll define what acceleration means, how it’s measured, and how it can be used to describe the forces that cause objects to speed up, slow down or change direction.

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## Acceleration is a vector quantity.

Acceleration is a vector quantity. This means that it has both magnitude and direction. A scalar quantity like speed, for example, has only magnitude (it can be high or low) but no direction. Examples of vector quantities include force and velocity—both have both magnitude and direction.

To illustrate how acceleration is a vector quantity: imagine you’re driving down the highway in your car at 60 km/h (37 mph) when suddenly the brakes are applied by someone behind you. Your car slows down to 20 km/h (12 mph). The initial speed was 30 km/h more than your final speed 20 km/h less, leading to an acceleration of -30 km/h / 37+20 = -5.6 m/s2 toward the rear end of your vehicle (the red arrow in the diagram).

## The SI unit for acceleration is meters per second squared.

The SI unit for acceleration is meters per second squared, or m/s2. In the English system of measurement, the unit for acceleration is feet per second squared or fps2. The term “miles per hour squared” can be used to describe this same thing in our customary units of measurement.

Using a proper unit allows us to measure the change in velocity concerning time without having to consider any particular direction or magnitude of motion. That said, we can also use this formula to describe changes in direction and magnitude as well as just changes in velocity alone; it all depends on how you choose to interpret it!

## Negative acceleration is called deceleration when the resultant speed is slowing down.

Acceleration and deceleration are both changes in velocity, but they’re not the same. Acceleration is a change in velocity that’s positive (the speed is increasing). Deceleration is a negative change in velocity, meaning that it slows down an object’s speed.

Acceleration can be expressed as “the rate of change of velocity” and has dimensions of meters per second squared (m/s2), or “meters per second per second.” If you want to know how fast something is accelerating, you just have to divide its acceleration by its mass.

## Acceleration isn’t the same thing as speed.

If you’re confused about what acceleration is, don’t worry. It’s one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in physics, so even some people who have studied it for years still get it wrong. Acceleration isn’t the same thing as speed; it’s actually how fast an object’s speed changes over time. Speed is how fast something moves through space, but acceleration can be either positive or negative depending on whether an object is speeding up or slowing down.

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Acceleration can be thought of in many ways, including as a change in velocity or as a change in an object’s state of motion. When the velocity changes, it is acceleration; when the direction changes, it is acceleration; when the speed changes, it is acceleration; and when the rate at which something accelerates changes (acceleration itself), that too is acceleration.

Acceleration can also be described as “the rate at which an object increases or decreases its speed.” For example: if an object starts out moving slowly from point A to point B but then speeds up on its way there—that would count as an increase in speed during travel time between points A and B (i.e., a speeding-up of motion). In this case, we could say that there was some sort of “acceleration” occurring along the way from start to finish point B.