British Imperial Scottish measures Australian beer measures U.S. Customary systems An old gallon measure Rough conversion
   between Imperial and Metric

Imperial Capacity

60 minims = 1 fl.drachm
8 fl.drachms = 1 fl.oz
5 fl.oz = 1 gill
2 gills = 1 cup
4 gills = 1 pint
20 fl.oz = 1 pint
2 cups = 1 pint
2 pints = 1 quart
4 quarts = 1 gallon
8 pints = 1 gallon



Enter number and select unit.
Select other units for conversion.

Dry measure Liquid measure
2 gallons = 1 peck
4 pecks = 1 bushel
3 bushels = 1 sack or bag
8 bushels = 1 quarter
36 bushels = 1 chaldron
12 sacks = 1 chaldron
5 quarters = 1 load
4.5 gallons = 1 pin
2 pins = 1 firkin
2 firkins = 1 kilderkin
2 kilderkins = 1 barrel
2 barrels = 1 puncheon
3 puncheons = 1 tun
Beer (contd.)
6 firkins = 1 hogshead
2 hogsheads = 1 butt
2 butts = 1 ton

2 bottle = 1 magnum
6 bottles = 1 gallon

British Imperial Units of volume are the same value for both wet and dry measures. Certain units tend to be used for one or the other, but you don't have units with the same name having different values (unlike America, see below). There is one exception, the barrel. Dry goods, such as herring, can be packed in casks. A herring barrel is 26 2/3 Imperial Gallons.

"fl.oz" is the abbreviation for "fluid ounce". A fluid ounce of water weighs one ounce in Imperial measurents although the American fluid ounce is slightly different. The abbreviation for "gallon" is "gal", and I have seen "pt" for "pint" but I don't know if it's official.

The gallon was mentioned in Piers Plowman (1342). The peck has been used since the 14C.

There's a well-known tongue twister - "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." You can have "a peck of trouble", and you're supposed "to eat a peck of dirt before you die", probably no longer true in our fastiduous times!

"To hide one's light under a bushel" means to keep quiet about one's abilities. A bushel is a container that holds a bushel of dry goods, and if you up-ended it over a light, then the light would be hidden.

The "ton" and the "tun" in the beer measures seem to be the same.

Shell-fish, such as shrimps and prawns, can be measured in pints or half pints (using a beer glass!)

A saying - "You can't get a quart into a pint pot." Undeniable!

The gill is sometimes spelled jill. It appears in the nursery rhyme:

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.
When Charles I scaled down the "jack" (a two-ounce measure) so as to collect higher sales taxes, the jill, by definition twice the size of the jack, was automatically reduced also and "came tumbling after."

1.8 cubic feet of water weighs 1 hundredweight. Any bushel is 1.28 cubic feet.

The main dry volume measure used in British recipes are teaspoons (tsp.) and tablespoons (tblsp.)

1 teaspoon = 0.21 fl.oz
3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon
That table was found in Good Housekeeping's Encyclopaedia published in 1973. It makes the British teaspoon to be about a fifth of an ounce, or nearly 6 ml. It also says that the American Teaspoon is about a sixth of an ounce, which is under 5 ml. The metric teaspoon is 5 ml. Everyone agrees that there are 3 teaspoons (however defined) to the tablespoon. However, I've had a correction to this. "My granny taught me all of forty years ago that there are two imperial teaspoons to the dessert spoon and there are two imperial dessert spoons to the tablespoon, and other works confirm that." I must admit that I have a vague memory of the same, and was surprised to hear the ratio of 3 tsp to tbl. But these are very rough and ready measures. Recipes may mention "level tablespoon", "rounded tablespoon" and "heaped tablespoon". These vary considerably in volume!

In Newcastle, there were additional volume measures of beatments (a quarter of a peck) and kennings (2 pecks) and bolls (2 bushels).

This is a cheerful folk song which lists, with great gusto, many of the units of volume.
Here's good luck to the pint pot
Good luck to the Barley Mow
Jolly good luck to the pint pot
Good luck to the Barley Mow
The pint-pot, half-a-pint, gill-pot, half-a-gill quarter-gill, pipkin, and the drum bowl.

Each verse adds something extra, until you get to:
Here's good luck to the barrel
Good luck to the Barley Mow
Jolly good luck to the barrel
Good luck to the Barley Mow
The barrel, the eighteen, the nine, the four-and-half, gallon, half-gallon, quart-pot, pint-pot, half-a-pint, gill-pot, half-a-gill quarter-gill, pipkin, and the drum bowl.

The eighteen, nine and four-and-half are kilderkins, firkins and pins. Some versions are the song may mention these. Some versions replace these with "half barrel", and end with "nipperkin, and the brown bowl" or "round bowl" rather than "pipkin, and the drum bowl". Both nipperkin and pipkins are cups or containers. The last bowl must be tiny as a quarter-gill is just over a fluid ounce.
You can continue the song with the land-lord, his wife, his daughter (of course!), the drayman, and so on, until you reach the company, who made the beer!

Beer casks used to be made out of wood. The pieces of the sides are called staves.

1200 staves = 1 mille (for a standard cask)

While I am talking about alcohol, a correspondent told me about shots, ponies and jiggers, which appear to be American measures used most often in bartending. A shot of whiskey will get you one fluid ounce (US). A pony is also 1 US fluid ounce. A jigger is 1.5 fluid ounces (US). I have never heard of a pony used in this sense, although Brewer's Phrase and Fable does say that in America, a Pony is a small beer-glass holding slightly under a gill (a gill is a quarter of a pint) - so the amount is different. I associate drinking shots with American films, but I think that jigger is used for recipes for cocktails. In Britain, a jigger is more likely to be a standard spirit measure, although when making cocktails, you can have a relative measure rather than an absolute one, since it is the proportions that matter rather than the quantities. The legal standard English spirit measure is 25ml or 35ml. These are the metric conversions of the old measures of 1/6 gill or 1/4 gill (or 1/5 gill in Scotland). Scotland uses 'dram' to mean a small glass of whisky. This must be a different meaning to the usual meaning of dram (or drachm), which is 1/8 fl oz. Most references assume it means any small glass of whisky, but my father (half-Scots) is sure that it was a specific amount. He thought it was twice a normal English spirit measure. There are some dram glasses on sale on the web which say they are two ounces (presumably fluid ounces) so that would be about right.

A rather sillier measure of beer is the yard of ale. This is a special glass which is a
yard long. This is a massively long glass, but it's very narrow, so it only contains 2 pints (Imperial). It has a rounded end. The idea is to drink the contents in one go. This is hard, not only because of the amount of liquid, but also the shape of the glass means that it is hard to control the flow of lquid to the mouth.

Back to bushels - another correspondent says "I have only once had the misfortune to bag oats by the bushel and this would be about 50 years ago. The oats were shovelled from the bulk heap into the bushel measure and then poured into the bag. The bushel measure was a part-barrel  -  less than half a barrel and possibly about a 1/3 of a barrel. At one time it had been stamped by the Weights and Measures inspectors. The procedure was to fill the bushel to overflowing, and then rap the side once, and once only, to settle the grain, using a bushel stick. This stick was then used to scrape the surplus off the top of the measure leaving a level full, but not over-full, measure. The contents were then teemed into the bag (or sack) and 4 or 5 bushels filled the bag, depending on the size. Great store was given to rapping the bushel properly. Too heavy a rap put too many grains into the bushel, and too light a rap gave poor measure. The traditional bag here was 10 stone or about 5 bushels, but 8 stone (1 cwt) bags were becoming more popular as farm workers got older. The railway bags held 2 cwt and we never filled them with more than 10 stone  -  we had nobody strong enough to lift them."

Connected with the above, in a Folk Museum, I saw a shop measure with a stick. The stick was supposed to help get the top of the measured material level. However, the stick was straight on one edge and curved on the other. The straight edge would give you good measure. But if the shopkeeper thought that he could cheat you, he would use the curved edge, which would give you short measure!

Scottish Measures

4 gills = 1 mutchkin
2 mutchkins = 1 chopin
2 chopin = 1 pint
8 pints = 1 gallon
1 gill= 0.749 gill
1 pint = 2 pt 3.992 gill
1 gallon = 3 gal Πgill

How you order beer in Australia

A correspondent pointed out that Australia has fun names for different measures of beer. I investigated, and I agree with him! The following table uses data from a website on
Ordering Beer in Australia. The Australian fluid ounce is the same as the English fluid ounce, so their pint (where used) is the same (except in South Australia). Some of the measures apparently only apply to some pubs within the given region, and if you buy a foreign beer such as Guiness, you may buy it in pints, even in state which doesn't usually use the word. I am distinctly worried that the same name buys you different amounts of beer in different parts of Australia. South Australia seems distinctly mean, and Western Australia has a very generous Pot. I do like the Pony and the Shetland, but I'm afraid that it has completely ruined my idea of Australia as a serious beer swilling nation! Drinking beer in units of a fifth of a pint?
I have been quite rightly taken to account for this gross libel on Australian drinking capacity, by this correspondent: "In hotter climates, well-chilled lager rapidly heats up to be too warm to drink if served in larger measures. Hope this sheds some light on this practice."

New South WalesNorthern TerritoryQueenslandSouth AustraliaTasmaniaVictoriaWestern Australia
Jug  40 fl oz    
Pint20 fl oz  15 fl oz 20 fl oz 
Schooner15 fl oz15 fl oz15 fl oz10 fl oz 15 fl oz15 fl oz
Middy10 fl oz 10 fl oz   10 fl oz
Handle 10 fl oz  10 fl oz  
Pot  10 fl oz 10 fl oz10 fl oz20 fl oz
Ten  10 fl oz 10 fl oz  
Eight    8 fl oz  
Seven7 fl oz7 fl oz7 fl oz    
Beer  7 fl oz    
Butcher   7 fl oz   
Glass     7 fl oz7 fl oz
Six    6 fl oz  
Small Glass     6 fl oz 
Bobbie      6 fl oz
Pony5 fl oz  5 fl oz 5 fl oz5 fl oz
Five  5 fl oz    
Small beer    4 fl oz  
Shetland      4 fl oz

If you are a little confused by this, here is the data rearranged by volume.

New South WalesNorthern TerritoryQueenslandSouth AustraliaTasmaniaVictoriaWestern Australia
40 fl oz  Jug    
20 fl ozPint    PintPot
15 fl ozSchoonerSchoonerSchoonerPint SchoonerSchooner
10 fl ozMiddyHandleMiddy, Pot, TenSchoonerHandle, Pot, TenPotMiddy
8 fl oz    Eight  
7 fl ozSevenSevenSeven, BeerButcher GlassGlass
6 fl oz    SixSmall GlassBobbie
5 fl ozPony FivePony PonyPony
4 fl oz    Small beer Shetland

In my 'local' (pub) in England, a jug is 4 pints, or 80 fl oz. So there! (But you're not supposed to drink it all yourself). The regular draft beer measures in Britain are Pint (20 fl oz) and half pint (10 fl oz), and you will be served the beer in a glass with an official stamp on it to show that it is correct measure. There will either be a line on it, or the complete measure is filling the glass to the brim. This explains why there are slop mats on the bar, and beer mats made of card on the tables! (Sorry - this explantion is under the wrong country, but it seemed the best place to put it.)

U.S. Customary systems - Volume

Dry measure
2 dry pints = 1 dry quart
8 dry quarts = 1 peck
4 pecks = 1 bushel

Liquid measure
4 fluid ounce = 1 gill
2 gill = 1 cup
2 cups = 1 wet pint
2 wet pints = 1 wet quart
4 wet quarts = 1 gallon
42 gallons = 1 barrel (oil)
The U.S. fluid ounce is 1/128 gallon (American)
about 1.805 cubic inches or 29.573531 ml.
This volume of water weighs about 1.04 ounces.

The Imperial fluid ounce is 1/160 gallon (Imperial) or 8 fluid drams
about 1.734 cubic inches or 28.413063 ml.
This volume of water weighs exactly 1 ounce
under certain temperature and pressure conditions.

These measures are not only different sizes to the British units of the same name, but different to each other. The wet U.S. units are 86% of the dry U.S. units with the same name. They are both smaller than the British units. The U.S. wet unit is 83% of the British unit, and the U.S. dry unit is 97% of the British unit. So if someone from the UK buys a gallon of gas in the United States, he will only get 83% of what he thinks he will get. While an American will probably flood the forecourt of the British filling station!

I was particularly worried about the American habit of using volume for measuring ingredients for cooking, i.e. they use cups (or half-pints) rather than pounds as the British do (or rather we are now starting to use kilos). We need scales, but at least weight is well-defined! My problem was: Is there a 'dry' cup as well as a 'wet' cup, and are they of different sizes? (There was a subsidary question as to whether butter and cream and peanut butter were wet or dry, and was there a difference between double cream and single cream?) I have had several very interesting comments on this, varying from "Of course we only use one cup" to "Of course we use two cups!" And most people point out that the volumes of butter are marked on the side of the pack (well, so there are in Britain sometimes, but I've usually already started the pack of butter when I come to use it for a cake!) However, eventually one correspondent said that there ARE two types of cup. They vary in design to make it easy to measure wet or dry ingredients, but they are the same size. They are all 8 fluid ounces. This sounded as if it answered all questions, so I checked it out. It seems that the cup used for measuring is a 'wet' cup, and there is no cup measuring half a dry pint. The dry measures of volume seem to be mostly used for amounts greater than a pint (if we ignore spoon measures). The name 'pint' and 'quart' are used in both systems (and are different sizes, so watch out!) However, there is one peculiarity. One reference work described 'fluid ounces' and 'dry ounces'. But here the 'dry ounce' was a measure of weight and the 'fluid ounce' was a measure of volume. In fact, this went on to say "Measures are classified as either dry measures or fluid measures. Fluid measures are measures of volume, while dry measures are measures of weight. Whether the ingredient you are measuring is dry or fluid really doesn't matter, and will only confuse you. Simply use the measure that is specified in your recipe." So you use a wet measure like a cup to measure flour! I like the comment "Simply use the measure that is specified in your recipe" since the words 'pint', 'quart' and indeed 'ounce' occur in both wet and dry forms. At least one reference work used 'ounce' when they really meant 'fluid ounce'.
Another correspondent says "Dry measure is actually little used in the U.S.  A cup of flour or a cup of milk in a recipe are measured in the same measuring cup.  Unless specified otherwise, all measurements are struck even with the top of the container.  The only survival of the identically named and slight differently sized dry units is that they are the officially sanctioned units for the purchase of fresh fruit, like buying a pint of strawberries.  Most people are completely unaware that a pint of blueberries isn't the same pint as a pint of milk." 
Another correspondent has made the following points: "Some ingredients will differ in weight if loose or packed, so a recipe will further specify if the ingredient is to be packed or loose.  When not specified the usage is to pour the ingredient into the measure until the desired level is reached.  Sometimes a note tells the cook not to shake or pack, but this is considered unnecessary.Nuts can be whole, broken, ground etc.  Each form will have a different weight for a given measure, but for the purposes of a recipe that is irrelevant. " (I disagree with him there I think the weight of nuts matter more than their volume!) "Measuring in this manner has an ancient history.  In Ali Baba & the Fourty Thieves a volume (wet) measure was used to count gold coins :)"
I still think the British method of weighing ingredients is better. I'd prefer to weigh gold coins to measuring them by volume!

Still, I would like to thank all my correspondents for illuminating me on this important subject, even if you confused me horribly en route!

A further comment: "One thing I'm surprised you didn't mention is that, while UK volume measures are based on water under specified conditions, liquid and dry volume measures in the US are all based on the cubic inch. They were originally based on the volume of cylinders of specified dimensions, but early in the Nineteenth Century Congress standardized on a gallon of exactly 231 in^3 and a bushel of exactly 2150.42 in^3."
I didn't mention it as I didn't know it!

Another correspondent quoted a saying that he learned as a kid, "A pint a pound, the world around." This is not strictly true. It IS true to say that 1 ml of water is 1 gram, because it's defined as so. A pound is 454 grams. An American wet pint is 471 grams, which is approximately the same. A British pint is 567 grams, which is definitely more. But this is only talking about water. Since the same amount of different materials will weigh different amounts, this can only be regarded as an extremely approximate conversion. Interestingly enough, the Americans have 16 fluid oz to a pint, while the British have 20 fluid oz to the pint. It turns out that an American dry pint is close to a British pint, while an American fluid oz (wet) is close to the British fluid oz. I don't know if this has any historical significance in the origins of the units!

However, another correspondent, reading the above, says "As I learned this rhyme it is 'A pint's a pound the world around.' This is a mnemonic to help remember the number of ounces in a pint. That is, there are the same number of liquid ounces in a pint as there are (weight) ounces in a pound -- i.e. 16. It is not about the weight of a pint of anything. I suppose people found it easier to remember ounces in a pound." However, it doesn't explain why it's "the world round" since the British pint has 20 ounces! Also it's not a very good mnemonic, since it seems that people misunderstand it.

Another correspondent from Australia says "When my mother taught me to cook, she used, as a rough rule of thumb, one pound of sugar to one pint of vinegar when making chutneys, relishes, pickles and ketchups; and when making jam, one pound of sugar to one pint of cooked fruit." That seems very sensible!

An English correspondent says "With regard to pint measures and mnemonics, I was always taught that 'a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter'. As you mention, a pint of water actually weighs 20 oz so this works. I have never heard before the one about 'a pint's a pound the world around'." Well, it doesn't in the UK! I must admit that I hadn't realised that a fluid ounce of water weighed an ounce. But it is very close: 1 fluid ounce (of water) weighs 28.35 gram and an ounce is 28.375 gram. The correspondent goes on to say "As a small boy during holidays in Cornwall in the late 1960s, I remember often being sent to the village shop by my grandmother for 'a gallon of potatoes'. Those were the days..." That certainly is a new one on me! I wonder what the shopkeeper said. (British potatoes were always sold by the pound, or even by the stone).
Another correspondent explains this: "The story given me was that during the war years (WWII), when all the brass weights (along with the church bells) went to become shell cases, the villagers bought their potatoes in the ubiqutious galvanised bucket - which held two gallons of water and weighed about a stone (14 pounds) if I remember rightly!  It carried on after the war years because it took time to get the brass back and people had become used to it."

Click here for information about some American measuring cups.

The American pound cake was originally so-called, because it used a pound each of its main ingredients, flour, sugar, butter, eggs. The Americans must have weighed ingredients then! The cake was baked in a special tin which makes a hole in the middle of the cake. One explanation for this is that it is easier to cut the cake, but I think that it is to help the cooking of the cake. Cakes cook from the tin towards the centre of the cake. If there is part of the tin at the centre of the cake, it would speed up cooking time, and for such a massive cake (four pounds in weight!) this would be very important. There is a British cake called a Victoria sponge, made from a quarter pound each of self-raising flour, fat (such as butter) and sugar, and two eggs. I was very pleased to discover that two eggs also weigh a quarter of a pound! However, a correspondent has told me that pound cakes no longer have a hole in the middle, but are cooked in loaf tins. Bundt cakes and angel food cakes are the ones with a hole in the middle. Another correspondent says "US pound cakes are still baked in the tin with the whole. These tins are called Bundt pans and pound cake is most certainly baked in Bundt tins. Supermarkets in my part of the US (North Carolina) sell ready made pound cakes that were baked in Bundt pans too so it's not just a homemade cake thing. It's simply the preference of the baker as to which kind of tin to bake pound cake in."

U.S. Barrels

Most fruits, vegetables, and other dry commodities - 7,056 cubic inches
Except for cranberry barrels which are - 5,826 cubic inches
Wine barrel - 31.5 gallons
Ale and beer barrel - 36 gallons
Proof spirits barrel - 40 gallons
Calculation of federal taxes on fermented liquors - 31 gallons
Petroleum barrel - 42 gallons
Fish, beef, and pork barrel - 200 pounds
Cement barrel - 376 pounds
among others ...

The sound you hear is me banging my head against the wall. I particularly admire the cranberry growers. And HOW do you calculate a tax on an alcohol barrel size which is different from all known barrel sizes? However, I have had an email saying that beer and whisky barrrels in the U.S. are 31 gallons.

An old gallon measure

gallon gallon gallon
On the left is an old gallon measure from Canada sent by one of my correspondents. While it seems to say George II, it is actually George V, and the 2 refers to London City. This is confirmed by the crest, which has been used by London for centuries.

However, another correspondent said "The measure you have pictured (on the left) wasn't verified in Canada during the reign of George V, as the Canadian system of controlling weights and measures was well established by 1911.  The measure could very well have been found in Canada but would not be legal for trade here unless reinspected and rebranded with Canadian verification sequences." He supplies photos of a Canadian bentwood measure (centre, above) and its verification sequence (right). He has been collecting and researching Canadian Measures for about 25 years now and has a small website

Rough conversion between Imperial and Metric

Remember that British Imperial units of volume are different to American units. See above for details.

I find many Imperial to Metric conversions very irritating, because they are far too precise. So here are some rough conversions which you can carry in your head.

"A litre of water's a pint and three quarters." Or, of course, anything else. (It rhymes to help you remember it).

A half litre is definately less than a pint. A quarter litre is less than a half pint. While the British don't mind buying their petrol in litres, there was (and is) considerable opposition to drinking metric beer or milk!

5 litres is more than a gallon. 4 litres is just over 7 pints.

5 ml is a teaspoon. It gets used for medicine.

If you want an accurate conversion:

1 fl.oz = 28.35 ml
1 pint = 0.567 litres
1 quart = 1.136 litres
1 gallon = 4.54 litres
1/4 litre = 8.8 fl.oz
1/2 litre = 17.6 fl.oz
1 litre = 1 pint 15.3 fl.oz
5 litres = 1 gallon 16 fl.oz
A final note on metric measures. You may notice that after liquid measures on packages in Britain (and elsewhere within the European Union), you will see an 'e'. This is a legal requirement, and says that the number is accurate within a certain pre-defined limit (only downwards - they don't care if you give too low a figure!) It stands for 'estimation' rather than 'Europe'.

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