Matter vs. Mass

Difference Between Matter And Mass


Matter is the name given to anything that possesses two qualities, or properties—it must take up space, and it must have mass. The first property is easy to understand. Everything solid around you—people, books, tables, pens, and so on—takes up space. The amount of space that an object takes up has a special name—it is called volume.

The volume of an object is measured in cubic inches (or cubic centimeters). The cubic measurement expresses the volume that the object would have if it were shaped into a cube—that is, a box with sides all of the same length. You can squeeze a piece of modeling clay into a ball, a cube, or any other shape you wish. But whatever shape you give it, the clay always takes up the same amount of space. Its volume stays the same.

Once you have pushed clay into a particular shape, it will keep that shape if left alone. Anything that keeps its shape when left alone is a solid.

What about water? You cannot shape water into a ball, a cube, or any other definite shape—it simply flattens out. But if you place water in an empty container, the water will press against the bottom and sides. No matter what the shape of the container may be, the water will take that shape.

Substances that behave in this way are liquids. Liquids change their shape easily, but they take up space, as solids do. And no matter what shape a particular amount of liquid may take, its volume remains the same.

Now let us look at the empty container. Was it really empty before the water was poured in? No, the container had air in it. Air is a mixture of several kinds of gases, and gases also take up space. When we pour water into the container, we push out the gases.

Solids, liquids, and gases are the three general forms of matter. They are the three states of matter. Try the experiments mentioned later in this article, and you will see that all matter, whatever state it is in, takes up space.


What is mass? To understand what it is, let’s begin with something everyone knows. It is harder to throw a large, heavy ball than a small, light one. A very large rock is hard to get moving at all. In the same way, a quickly moving Ping-Pong ball is easy to stop. A quickly moving baseball is harder to stop and calls for a padded glove. A large, heavy rock moving as fast as the baseball is so hard to stop that you had better just get out of its way.

Any piece of matter, if it is not moving then its tendency is towards rest and if its moving then it tends to movement. That is what people mean when they say that matter possesses inertia. It takes an effort to put matter into motion or bring it to rest. The more effort it takes for any piece of matter, the more inertia that matter has. The amount of inertia a particular piece of matter has represents its mass.




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