Ton vs. Tonne: What’s the Difference?

If remembering the differences between American and British English weren’t difficult enough, adding in the differences between American and British systems of measurement can be maddening. This is the situation in which writers find themselves when choosing ton or tonne for their writing.

Both words refer to a unit of measurement, but not the same unit. Additionally, one word is only used outside the United States. To further complicate things, one term has a casual usage case that doesn’t commonly apply to its counterpart.

If you’re having trouble choosing tonne or ton, this article is written to clarify the differences between these two terms, so read on for an in-depth explanation.

What is the Difference Between Ton and Tonne?

In this article, I’ll explain compare ton vs. tonne. I will go over the definition of each word, where they are used in the English-speaking world, and I will use each word in a sentence to further illustrate their meaning.

Plus, at the end I’ll show you a helpful trick to remember when to use each word.

When to Use Ton

Ton to tonne conversion unitWhat does ton mean? A ton is a unit of weight. Americans measure nearly everything differently from the rest of the world, and weight is no exception.

In America, a ton, also called a short ton, is equal to 2,000 U.S. pounds (abbreviated lbs.).

Most other industrialized nations have standardized around the metric system and use what is called the metric ton. A metric ton is equal to 1,000 kilograms (abbreviated kg). Thus, a metric ton is slightly larger than a U.S. ton—it converts to 2,204.6 pounds.

  • Instead, under a resolution approved on Thursday by the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the 25-ton piece will be transported from the Battery, hoisted up into the new elevated Liberty Park and set down near the St. Nicholas National Shrine, which is under construction. –The New York Times

There is another kind of ton that is largely outdated but worth mentioning called the British ton, also known as the long ton. The long ton is equal to 2,240 pounds.

Ton in Casual Speech

Ton, of course, is used informally to describe a large amount of something.

For example,

  • Dan had a ton of guacamole at his cookout, since six different people brought some.
  • “I can’t go out with you tonight; I have a ton of paperwork to do,” Maya said.

It is very unlikely that there were 2,000 pounds of guacamole at Dan’s cookout. Likewise, one ton of paper would be roughly 200,000 sheets. Unless Maya’s job is truly awful, she probably doesn’t have an actual ton of paperwork.

In casual usage, a ton usually means a lot of something, regardless of weight.

When to Use Tonne

Ton versus tonnesWhat does tonne mean? Tonne is an alternative spelling used to describe a metric ton. It is almost never used in American English, but it is widely used outside of the United States.

Again, a tonne, also known as a metric ton, is a unit of measurement equal to 1,000 kilograms. A tonne is larger than a U.S. ton.

Examples of Tonne

  • He is the kind of restless soul who by now might reasonably be expected to pursue other passions, other avenues in life besides steering half a tonne of horse flesh over seven-foot fences. –The Telegraph
  • Graphite is used in the production of lithium-ion batteries, and while prices vary depending on the quality, Pocock says it averages at about US$1,000 per tonne. –The Guardian

Trick to Remember the Difference

Meaning of ton definitionIf you are still having trouble keeping these two words apart, here is a helpful trick to remember tonne vs. ton.

In the United States, a ton refers to 2,000 pounds. Outside the United States, a ton is shorthand for a metric ton, or 1,000 kilograms.

Tonne is also used when referring to a metric ton.

The key to remembering the difference between these terms is the “NE” at the end of tonne. Tonne is primarily used in the U.K. (and elsewhere), which is northeast (or NE) of the continental US. This geographical mnemonic should help keep these terms straight in your writing.


Is it ton or tonne? Ton and tonne are both units of measurement.

  • In the United States, a ton is 2,000 pounds.
  • Outside the United States, a ton can refer to a metric ton, which is 1,000 kilograms, or 2,204.6 pounds.
  • A tonne is another word for metric ton. Since tonne is used in the U.K. and ends in NE, and the U.K. is NE of the continental US, remembering these words should be fairly easy.