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Technisches Englisch (Teil 8)


zu Teil 7: Professional power tools

»One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions«. Is this a statement you agree with? It clearly states that when technology is involved, you should always have reliable facts as a technician or an engineer to be on the safe side. Apart from tools such as pliers, cutters, wire strippers, multimeters which are found in every electrician’s toolbox, there are also lots of smaller parts needed for every-day-use. They are just as important as the big tools and of course they have to be reordered once they have been used for installations and repairs etc. Reordering material will be one of Lucy’s tasks in her uncle’s office and she therefore needs to know some basic facts about such parts and items. She should be familiar with certain specifications or dimensions such as length, width etc. When learning the proper technical terms, it can be enough at the beginning to identify them by their shapes and sizes but becoming more specific, i.e. being able to specify them in more detail in the course of time.

Bild: Englische Maße und Größen – ab und zu etwas verwirrend
Bild: Englische Maße und Größen – ab und zu etwas verwirrend

A lesson in accuracy

Jack: So, Lucy, have a look. I’ve gathered some items here to explain the proper technical terms to you, how you can tell the difference between certain parts by perhaps concentrating on their shapes and sizes at the beginning to make it easier for you. When I go to customers in my work van, I often use materials which must be reordered afterwards so that I always have enough with me for other customers. And this will be one of your jobs here in the office. You check what I have written down on the work order or the list of materials used and then you can order it with the wholesaler.

Lucy: Okay, Uncle Jack, I think I can do this very easily by email or with an online order form. I’m an expert in the shapes and sizes of the many sunglasses that I have, but when I look at all these things on the table here, I have to admit, it looks a bit more complicated.

Jack: Well, if you order things, then of course you must know what items we are talking about to find out about the correct reference or part numbers. But I’ll show you where you can find all this information.

Lucy: Oh yes, no problem. Nowadays you simply enter the quantity you need, how many pieces of this and that, into the online order forms. I’m very experienced in all that because I used to order a lot of my clothes online in Germany.

Jack: We’ll have a look at all this later on. Moreover, when we receive the parts from the wholesaler, you must check whether the correct ones have been delivered in the right dimensions and quantities etc. So, what can I show you here? There are some hooks like these S-shaped ones, bolts, clips and clamps, different kinds of ropes with different lengths, springs and these round washers.

Lucy: What are the washers used for?

Jack: Well, a washer is a thin plate, typically disk-shaped like this one with a hole mostly in the middle that is normally used to distribute the load of a threaded fastener, such as a bolt or nut. But they also come in all different shapes and sizes like for example star-shaped washers and square or rectangular ones. Over here, we have some batteries. This one is six volts, that one over there is a ten-volt battery. These are some fuses, some are 3 amps and that is a 13-amp fuse.

Lucy: I see, everything needs to be pretty precise.

Jack:  Yes, and you can see that in order to precisely measure wire length and other items, measuring tools such as the extension or zigzag rule, push-pull rule and a steel tape are extremely useful. But you’ve probably seen those before.

Lucy: Oh yes, I have. But tell me, Uncle Jack, do you use the same measuring units like the ones we have in Germany, i.e. the metric system?

Jack: It is used in the UK, but not universally. The British Imperial Units go back in history to a time when people compared the size of objects to what they immediately had at hand: themselves or parts of their bodies. For length, the inch is approximately the thickness of one’s thumb, the hand, the thickness of one’s hand, the foot the size of one’s foot. The yard was defined as the distance of one’s nose to one’s outstretched thumb. The step is the distance of 1 step and the pace the distance of two steps. The mile was originally defined in the Roman Empire as 1,000 paces. But of course, people realized that they all had slightly different body dimensions, so some kind of standardization was necessary. As a result, a carpenter sized up the most powerful man alive, the king or ruler and marked up his dimensions on a piece of wood. This wooden measurement device is known as a “ruler” and we still use it nowadays.

Lucy: That’s all very interesting, but what about the metric system in the UK today?

Jack: Well, to be honest it’s quite a muddle. Older people still use the imperial system more than young people. An old person might use old measurements like ounces to measure food, despite universal labelling only in grams on all food. Some use °F rather than °C, but Celsius is used universally for weather forecasts. Most thermometers have both scales. For historical reasons road signs express distance in miles. Land area in the country is measured in acres and hectares. And if you ask someone their weight they will probably reply in stones not kilos, and a tall person is 6′ 3″ (6 feet, three inches) not 192cm. But a doctor will always tell you the metric measurements. Milk and beer are sold in pints. But for some legal reasons the milk carton will tell you it’s 2.27 litres. Cars have speedometers telling you your speed in miles per hour, and their fuel economy is measured in miles to the gallon. However, fuel is only sold in litres, without indicating how many gallons you are buying. These days our road signs are in yards and miles but many pedestrian walkways are in km (or minutes). The currency is based on the metric system, with 100 pence in a pound and £1,000,000 in a million.

Lucy: Oh no, how confusing. And I know that the US imperial system is also different in some respects from the British one. Isn’t this crazy in an era of globalization?

Jack: It definitely is. But you must always consider that such changes cost a lot of money. Think of all the things that have to be changed.

Lucy: O.k., Uncle Jack, I’m exhausted after so much information. The best thing will be if I have a look on the internet whether I can find a conversion table for the metric and non-metric system.

Jack: Fine with me, let’s call it a day and I’m sure you’ll get used to all the little differences here in the UK.

Conversions between imperial and metric measurements

Imperial  Metric
1 inch (in) about 2.5 cm
1 foot  (ft) 30cm
1 yard  (yd) almost 1m
1 mile just over 1.5km
1 ounce (oz) about 30g
1 pound  (lb) about half a kg
1 stone about 6.5kg
1 pint just over half a liter
1 gallon (gal) about 4.5 liters

Conversion table

from  into multiply by
pounds grams 453.6
pounds kilograms 0.4536
US ton tonnes 0.907
inches centimeters 2.54
feet meters 0.3048
yards meters 0.9144
miles kilometers 1.609
sq inches (square inches) sq centimetres 6.452
sq feet sq meters 0.0929
acres hectares 0.405
sq mile sq kilometers 2.59
UK pints liters 0.568
US pints liters 0.473
UK gallons liters 4.546
US gallons liters 3.785

Within the imperial system there are

  • 12 inches in a foot
  • 16 oz in a pound
  • 14 lb in a stone
  • 8 pints in a gallon
  • and 32°F is 0°C

Convert from °F to °C – Example with 50°F

  1. subtract 32 → 50 – 32 = 18
  2. multiply by 5, → 18 ⋅ 5  = 90
  3. divide by 9 → 90 : 9  = 10°C


  • Keep in mind that decimals in English have a point (.) instead of a comma (,) as in German.
  • Say numbers together before the point: 26.26 = twenty-six point two six
  • Say numbers separately after the point: 3.25 = three point two five
  • Before the point 0 is zero or nought (not oh): 0.4 = zero/nought point four
  • After the point 0 is zero or oh: 0.04 = zero point zero/oh four


Here are some of the most common shapes:

  • A wire is a single, usually cylindrical, flexible strand or rod of metal.
  • A screwdriver comes in various sizes and with several tip shapes.

You see, sometimes the adjectives are identical with the nouns, at other times they are different.

Talking about dimensions

Dimensions are the measurement of something in a particular direction, especially its height, length, width or depth (adjectives: high, long, wide or deep) to talk about area and size, but also amplitude, brightness, frequency, mass, volume and weight.

  • Please specify the dimensions (= the height, length and width) of the room.
  • It is a building of vast dimensions (= size).
  • When you use a screwdriver for a particular job, the width of the screwdriver tip should match the width of the screw slot.
  • The Eiffel Tower is 324 meters high.
  • The height of the Eiffel Tower is 324 meters.
  • When you talk about more than one measurement of an object you can use the word »respectively«.

So instead of saying: ’The height of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is 227m, its width is 27m and its length is 2,727m.’, it’s more elegant to say ’The height, width and length of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco are 227m, 27m and 2,737m respectively.’

Tall or high?

We use tall for people, buildings and things that grow. Otherwise we use high:

  • He’s very tall for his age.    Not: He’s very high for his age.
  • The Ulm cathedral is the tallest church tower in the world.
  • The plants were two meters tall.
  • They built high walls around their garden.
  • We’re travelling at a height of 10,000 m above sea level.

Instead of using »long and wide«, you can also say »by«.

  • The island is 12 miles long and 15 miles wide.
  • The island is 12 miles by 15 miles.


  • The engine weighs 40 kg. Its weight is 40 kg.

Compound nouns

They consist of a number and its unit of measure to describe a noun. A hyphen (Bindestrich) is used to indicate that the number is associated with the unit and not the noun. The unit of measure is only used in the singular (Einzahl) when you put it in front of the noun(!):

  • 3-amp fuse
  • 6-volt battery
  • 600-volt insulation
  • 6-meter cable
  • 12-inch rule
  • three-week course

Without a hyphen, the reader might get confused that you have 6 meter-cables or 3 amp-fuses. The hyphen makes it clear.  However, do not use a hyphen when only describing the units. »The fuse is rated for 3 amps.« or »The cable is 6 meters long.« do not require a hyphen. The unit of measure is used in the plural! (Mehrzahl)

But: A 10 percent increase. The word »percent« is always spelled out in a text and it is never written with a hyphen. So much for today. I hope you found all this less confusing than Lucy. It might be at the beginning but practise makes perfect. Let’s see how she can handle this all in the future. So, stay tuned!

Vocabulary_Technical English 8_Measurements

zu Teil 9

Über die Autorin
Sabine Barz

English communication-skills trainer


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