Litres & Metric Volume Units


The litre is no longer one of the standard units of the metric system (SI), although it was a base unit in many incarnations of the metric system. It is now defined in terms of the SI unit of length, as volume is a three dimensional measure, and is considered a special name for 1 cubic decimetre (see below)

  • 1 decimetre = 0.1 metres = 10 centimetres

Thus 1 cubic metre, the SI metric unit of volume is 1000 litres and 1 litre is 1000 cubic centimetres.


The litre and its derivative measures (centilitres, millilitres etc) are commonly used for measuring the volumes of liquids and items that are measured by the size of their container. You will find that in almost all European countries and other countries that have adopted the metric system that milk, beer, water and other drinks will be sold in containers measured in litres, centilitres or millilitres. Some countries such as the UK use the millilitre much more than the centilitre and others use the centilitre in preference to the millilitre.

Table of Metric Liquid Volume Units

The following table gives metric liquid volume units, the litre and its derivatives (using standard SI metric prefixes), with their equivalent in both UK pints and US pints.

Unit Abbreviation As Litres As UK Pints As US Pints Notes
microlitre μl 0.000001 0.00000175975399 0.000002113376419 Used on pharmaceutical packaging
millilitre ml 0.001 0.00175975399 0.002113376419 Used on food and pharmaceutical labels and packages
centilitre cl 0.01 0.0175975399 0.02113376419 Used on drinks containers in mainland Europe
decilitre dl 0.1 0.175975399 0.2113376419 Rarely used
litre l 1 1.75975399 2.113376419 litres are commonly used in retail sales
decalitre dal 10 17.5975399 21.13376419 Rarely used
hectolitre hl 100 175.975399 211.3376419 Rarely used
kilolitre kl 1,000 1,759.75399 2,113.376419
megalitre Ml 1,000,000 1,759,753.99 2,113,376.419

History & Background

The litre was one of the original metric base units introduced in the French metric system of 1799. It was part of the official metric system until 1964, when the current definition was introduced. For many years before this it was defined as the volume of 1 kilogram of pure water at maximum density and standard atmospheric pressure.

Conversion Formulae for Litres

To British Imperial - Pints

  • 1 litre = 1.75975399 Imperial pints
  • 1 Imperial pint = 0.56826125 litres

To US Customary - Pints

  • 1 litre = 2.113376419 US pints
  • 1 US pint = 0.473176473 litres