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How to read a measuring tape in inches

Updated February 21, 2017

The standard system of linear measurement in the United States uses inches, as opposed to the metric system, which uses centimetres. Twelve inches make up a foot and on a ruler or a tape measure, inches themselves are divided up as well. Inches are divided into halves, eighths and sixteenths. This may seem daunting but reading a measuring tape in inches is a relatively simple procedure and, after doing it a few times, will become second nature.

Extend the measuring tape and slide the switch on it to lock it in place.

Read only the top half of the tape. The bottom half measures centimetres, while the top half measures inches.

Look at the numbers. Each one represents an inch. Every 12 inches is a foot. These are usually marked in a different colour or designated differently. For example, it may say “1F” at the one-foot mark.

Observe the small lines between the numbers. The smallest indicates 1/16 of an inch, the second smallest indicates 1/8 of an inch, then third-smallest indicates 1/4 of an inch and the biggest indicates half-an-inch.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
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About the Author

Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.