Keith Kelly looks at examples of the language of measuring in science, covering structures including adjectives and adverbs, nouns and word formation.

To download the accompanying lesson plan, please click on the link to the right of the screen.

Adjectives and adverbs

There is a group of frequently occurring adjectives used for describing size, distance and shape.

thin: The filament light bulb consists of a very thin tungsten filament coil. (Note that materials may be paper-thin.)
thick: The earth’s outer core consists of molten rocks, iron and nickel and it is about 2,000 km thick. (Tissue material may be one cell thick, or it can be one cell in thickness.)
light: The emergency equipment is made of strong, but very light, material that automatically inflates.
long: Metals are long-lasting and hold their shape because they are strong and tough.
narrow: In the very narrow xylem vessels, water can rise to a height of about three metres by capillarity.
fast: Pyroclastic flow is the fast-moving dense lava and gases moving down the side of the volcano.
slow: A light meal of slow-release carbohydrate a few hours before exercise boosts endurance.
low / high: Blood flowing on the right side of the heart is low in oxygen and high in carbon dioxide. (Note the preposition in.)

Note: In some compound phrases involving numbers, the adjective comes after the measurement noun: two metres high, three hundred metres deep, two hours long) 


nouns referring to quantity, scope or degree of something
(amount, level, extent, measurement, range, speed, size, span, rate, scale)
amount: The amount of heat energy radiated or absorbed by something depends on the colour and type of its surface.
extent: Tides are the rising and falling sea levels due to lunar gravitational pull and to a lesser extent the Sun on surface water.
range: The range of the clinical thermometer temperature scale is very small, normally between 35°C and 45°C.
speed: Temperature is determined by the speed at which particles move or vibrate.
size: How will the image formed by a convex lens vary in size and orientation?
span: Red blood cells have a life span of up to 120 days after which they are destroyed or broken down in the liver.
rate: Population growth occurs when the birth rate exceeds the death rate.
scale: The Celsius scale is more commonly used worldwide.

nouns used to measure what is typical within a group
average: Calculate the average daily amount of water used by your family over the space of one week.

nouns which describe parts or sections of something
(stage, step)
stage: At what stage in the water cycle does precipitation take place?

words used for careful examination
(check, study, survey, observe)
study: Nutrition is the study of how nutrients are used in the body.
observe: Describe what you would expect to observe when natural light shines on a cyan-coloured object.

words to do with mathematical shape
(area, cross-section, diameter)
area: Villi increase the ileum surface area and increase the rate of absorption of digested foods.
cross-section: A cross-section of a tooth shows that the tooth consists of three layers.
diameter: The ovum is a single spherical cell with a diameter of about one millimetre.

compound words where the compound follows a noun + noun pattern
(e.g. a two-hour journey, a 30-day period, etc.)
30-day: Calculate how much electricity is consumed over a 30-day period. 

Word formation

nouns formed from adjectives by adding the suffixes -th and -ness
(depth, length, width)
length: The focal length of a mirror is the distance between the centre of the mirror and the focal point.

(hardness, softness, thickness, thinness, richness, loudness, softness, weakness, roughness, coarseness, smoothness, steepness, heaviness, lightness)
hardness: Temporary hardness of water can be removed by boiling.
loudness / softness: The loudness and softness of a sound depends on its amplitude.

(height, weight)
height: A mountain is a steep-sided landform which is normally over 400 metres in height.
weight: From weight we also have light/heavyweight, weightless, and weightlessness.
lightweight: Plastics are cheap, lightweight, easily shaped and coloured.
weightlessness: Weightlessness can cause muscles to become weak and waste away.

nouns formed from verbs by adding the suffix -ment
(development, movement, measurement)
development: Exercise is very important for good health and development.
movement: The movement of cool air from sea to land is called a sea breeze.
measurements: Describe measurements needed to work out the efficiency of the pulley system.

verbs formed without changing the root form
(to reach, to check, to record, to extend, to range)
reach: Pyroclastic flow can reach speeds as fast as 100 km per hour or more.
check: Check the cause of overload before resetting the circuit breaker.
record: Design a suitable table in which to record your observations as you carry out your experiment.
extend: After about an hour of extended exercise, muscle glycogen stores deplete quickly.
range: Explain why the temperature scale on a clinical thermometer ranges only between 35°C and 43°C?

verb phrases formed by adding adverb particles and prepositions
range between: Radio waves have wavelengths ranging between 1m and 105m.
speed up / slow down: Catalysts can either speed up or slow down a reaction.

verb phrases formed by adding -en to the root word
(widen – this also gives us the noun widening)
widen: Before birth, the cervix prepares to widen to let the baby through ( … the widening of the cervix …)


Click link to download and view these files