As I understand it there are two different words for "how fast an object is moving" in English:

  • velocity, tells you how the x,y,z (in 3 dimensions) coordinates of an object change over time. It's a vector quantity, hence has direction and magnitude. For example

  • speed, tells you how fast the object covers distance. It's a scalar quantity with no direction. For example

Do you distinguish between the vector / scalar quantity in German too? I only know the word "Geschwindigkeit" and I think it's used in both cases. Is there another word that only describes either "speed" or "velocity"?

  • 7
    I didn’t know English made this distinction. I always thought that velocity is just a more fancy and scientific way of saying speed
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 0:37
  • @Jan It is...apparently. Its always been my tripping point whenever I'm solving kinematics questions. Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 8:12
  • 10
    IMHO, outside physics this distinction is normally not made in both English and German. And German doesn't have a word to make the distinction.
    – tofro
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 8:59
  • @Jan In a way, that's right - speed is how far you walk. Velocyty is much more fancy because it also has a direction: You can walk around a corner with constant speed, but not with constant velocity. Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 17:49

3 Answers 3


No, we do not make such a clear distinction in German. The German counterpart for Wikipedias entry on velocity is titled Geschwindigkeit, and it explains:

Oft wird mit dem Wort Geschwindigkeit nur ihr Betrag gemeint..., der anschaulich gesprochen das momentane „Tempo“ der Bewegung wiedergibt.

From there you see that we also use Geschwindigkeit when we mean speed, and it also offers another option Tempo when you really need a second word.

  • 3
    A friend of mine who is a physics teacher tells me that in class, she makes the distinction between Geschwindigkeit as a vector and Tempo as a scalar. But I agree most people would not make that distinction. Also, Tempo is a word that I'd expect in spoken rather than written language. Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 5:22

You have to append vektor in German when you have to make clear a vector is meant. Geschwindigkeitsvektor

(note the linking s between the two word parts and also note vektor is spoken with an o as in the English word core)

This applies to any other physical variables as well.

  • What do you mean by "the linking s between the two word parts (...) is spoken with an o (...)"? How can an s be spoken with an o? Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 10:20
  • 1
    The 's' between Geschwindigkeit and Vektor is called Fugen-s
    – Iris
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 12:35
  • 1
    @Mapper He means that the 'o' in the word "Vektor" is spoken like the o in the English word "core". The s doesn't have anything to do with the pronunciation.
    – user17009
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 13:27

Another word for speed is also Schnelligkeit, as you can see from these lecture notes (p. 52) from a German university.

But to be honest, only distinguishing velocity vs. speed but not scalar vs. vectorial acceleration is a little strange.

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