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SI Unit Prefixes
The basic SI units can be expressed as fractions and multiples of basic units by using a set of simple prefixes.
Learning Objectives

Convert between SI units

Memorize SI unit prefixes
Key Points
 The set of prefixes is simple and easy to use.
 Prefixes cannot be combined.
 The set of prefixes is universal.
Terms

fraction
a part of a whole, especially a comparatively small part

prefix
One or more letters or syllables added to the beginning of a word to modify its meaning; for example, kilo can be added to gram to create kilogram
Full Text
SI Unit Prefixes
Now that we know about the SI system and what it provides to the scientist and engineer, we can examine some aspects of actual measurement. The SI system utilizes a standard system of prefixes to the basic units that allow them to be more relevant to and descriptive of relative magnitude.
For example, when reading about chemical kinetics, you may encounter the terms "ms" or "ns," meaning "millisecond" and "nanosecond" respectively. Once you've become accustomed to the practice of using the prefixes, you will immediately know that the millisecond is 1/1000 of one second and is 1 million times larger than a nanosecond, which is 1/1000000000 of one second, or 10^{9} seconds.
Briefly review the basic SI units before you study the prefixes.
The basic SI units
The basic units of the SI system.
There are 20 accepted prefixes. A prefix may be used to identify multiples of the original unit or fractions of the original unit. For example, kilo denotes a multiple of a thousand, so there are one thousand meters in a kilometer. Milli denotes a thousandth; therefore, there are one thousand millimeters in a meter.
Prefixes for SI units
The prefixes redefine the measurement as either a multiple or a fraction of the basic unit.
Keep in mind that prefixes should never be combined. Thus a millionth of a meter is a micrometer, not a millimillimeter, and a millionth of a kilogram is a milligram, not a microkilogram.
In older usage, a micron (a measurement often encountered in physics and engineering) is the same as a micrometer, 10^{6} meters. Another older form of usage, the millimicron, is one thousandth of a micrometer, or 1 thousandth of 10^{6} meters, or 10^{9} meter, now called a nanometer. While these older terms are not in common usage, they are often encountered in older publications, and knowing their modern equivalents is an advantage.
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Key Term Reference
 SI system
 Appears in these related concepts: Viscosity, Standard Units (SI Units), and Molality
 SI unit
 Appears in these related concepts: Using Molarity in Calculations of Solutions, SI Units of Pressure, and Molarity
 kinetics
 Appears in these related concepts: Particle in a Box, The de Broglie Wavelength, and Organic Reactions Overview
 system
 Appears in these related concepts: Exact Numbers, Definition of Management, and Comparison of Enthalpy to Internal Energy
Sources
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Cite This Source
Source: Boundless. “SI Unit Prefixes.” Boundless Chemistry. Boundless, 21 Jul. 2015. Retrieved 07 Feb. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/chemistry/textbooks/boundlesschemistrytextbook/introductiontochemistry1/unitsofmeasurement29/siunitprefixes1841396/