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An imperial pint of beer

The pint /ˈpnt/ (abbreviated as "pt" or "p") is a unit of volume or capacity in both the United States customary and British imperial measurement systems. The British pint is about 20% larger than the American pint since the two systems are not compatible. Almost all other countries have standardized on the metric system, so the size of what may be called a pint varies depending on local custom.

The imperial pint (≈ 568 mL) is used in the United Kingdom and Ireland and to a limited extent in other Commonwealth nations. In the United States, two pints are used: a liquid pint (≈ 473 mL) and a less-common dry pint (≈ 551 mL). Each of these pints is one-eighth of its respective gallon but the gallons differ and the imperial pint is about 20% larger than the US liquid pint. This difference dates back to 1824, when the British Weights and Measures Act standardised various liquid measures throughout the British Empire, while the United States continued to use the earlier English measures. The imperial pint consists of 20 imperial fluid ounces and the US liquid pint is 16 US fluid ounces, making the imperial fluid ounce about 4% smaller than the US fluid ounce.

All of the other former British colonies such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand converted to the metric system in the 1960s and 1970s, so while the term "pint" may still be in common use in these countries, it may no longer refer to the imperial pint once used throughout the British Empire. In the United Kingdom, the pint is still the primary unit for draught beer and cider, as it is for milk sold in returnable bottles, but a pint of beer served in a tavern outside the United Kingdom and the United States may be an imperial pint, a US pint, a half-litre beer stein, or some other measure reflecting local laws or customs.[1]

Historically, units called a pint (or the equivalent in the local language) were used across much of Europe, with values varying between countries from less than half a litre to over one litre. Within continental Europe, the pint was replaced with the metric system during the 19th century, but the term is still in limited use in parts of France, Quebec ("une pinte") and Central Europe, notably some areas of Germany and Switzerland.


Imperial pint[edit]

The imperial pint is equal to one-eighth of an imperial gallon.[2]
1 imperial pint  18 imperial gallon
12 imperial quart
4 imperial gills
20 imperial fluid ounces
568.26125 millilitres (exactly)[3][4] ≈568 mL
≈  34.677429099 cubic inches
≈  1.2009499255 US liquid pints
≈  1.0320567435 US dry pints
≈  the volume of 1 14 lb (567 g) of water at 62 °F (16.7 °C)

United States liquid pint[edit]

The United States liquid pint is equal to one-eighth of a United States liquid gallon.[2] It is used commonly in the United States.
1 US liquid pint  18 US liquid gallon
12 US liquid quart
2 US cups
4 US fluid gills
16 US fluid ounces
128 US fluid drams
28.875 cubic inches (exactly)[5]
473.176473 millilitres (exactly)[6] ≈ 473 mL
≈  0.83267418463 imperial pints
≈  0.85936700738 US dry pints
≈  the volume of 1.041 lb (472 g) of water at 62 °F (16.7 °C)

United States dry pint[edit]

1 US dry pint  18 US dry gallons
12 US dry quarts
33.6003125 cubic inches (exactly)
550.6104713575 millilitres (exactly)[6] ≈ 551 mL
≈  0.96893897192 imperial pints
≈  1.1636471861 US liquid pints

Other pints[edit]

Labeled in English (1 US DRY PINT) and in French (1 CHOPINE SÈCHE US 551 mL) for sale in the US and Canada. The coin has a diameter of 1.04 inches (26 mm).
Blueberries labeled in English (1 US DRY PINT) and French (1 CHOPINE SÈCHE US 551 mL) for sale in the US and Canada.

The United States dry pint is equal to one-eighth of a United States dry gallon. It is used in the United States but is not as common as the liquid pint.

A now-obsolete unit of measurement in Scotland known as the Scottish pint or joug equals three imperial pints. It remained in use until the 19th century, and survived significantly longer than most of the old Scottish measurements.

The French word pinte is etymologically related, but historically described a larger unit. The Royal pint (pinte du roi) was 48 French cubic inches (952.1 mL).[7] but regional pints varied in size depending on locality and on commodity (usually wine or olive oil) varying from 0.95 L to over 2 L.[7] Thus, in French Canada, une pinte refers, by federal law, to the imperial quart whereas the imperial pint is called une chopine.[8] In Flanders, the word pint, pintje, refers only to a 250 mL glass of lager. Some West- and East-Flemish dialects use it as a word for beaker. In the Netherlands, the word pint is used in the phrase pint bier or pintje bier, meaning a 500 mL glass of beer.[citation needed]


One US fluid pint of water weighs about a pound (16 ounces), resulting in the popular saying, "The pint's a pound, the world around." However, a US pint of water weighs 1.04375 pounds and the statement does not hold the world around because the imperial (UK) pint weighs 1.25 pounds. A different saying for the imperial pint is "A pint of pure water weighs a pound and a quarter."


The pint was defined as one-eighth of a gallon. Other versions of the gallon were defined for different commodities, and thus there were equally many versions of the pint.

America adopted the British wine gallon, defined in 1707 as 231 cubic inches exactly (3 × 7 × 11 in) as its basic liquid measure, from which the US wet pint is derived; and the British corn gallon (18 of a standard "Winchester" bushel of corn, or 268.8 cubic inches) as its dry measure, from which the US dry pint is derived.

In 1824 the British parliament replaced all the various gallons with a new imperial gallon based on ten pounds of distilled water at 62 °F (16.667 °C) (277.42 cubic inches), from which the current UK pint is derived.

The various Canadian provinces continued to use the Queen Anne Winchester wine gallon as a basis for their pint until 1873, well after Britain adopted the imperial system in 1824. This made the Canadian pint compatible with the American pint, but after 1824 it was incompatible with the British pint. The traditional French "pinte" used in Lower Canada (Quebec) was twice the size of the traditional English "pint" used in Upper Canada (Ontario), about 1 litre versus 0.5 litres. After four of the British provinces united in Canadian Confederation in 1867, Canada legally adopted the British imperial system of measure in 1873, making Canadian liquid units incompatible with American ones from that year forward.[9] In 1873, the French Canadian "pinte" was defined as being one imperial quart or two imperial pints, while the imperial pint was legally called a "chopine" in French Canada. Canadian imperial units of liquid measure remain incompatible with American traditional units to this day, and although the Canadian pint, quart, and gallon are still legal units of measure in Canada, they are still 20% larger than the American ones. Most Canadians and almost all Americans are unaware of the difference, nor are they aware that in French Canada a "pinte" is actually a quart, so to avoid lawsuits, companies clarified it by putting the metric measure on the containers even prior to official metrication.

Effects of metrication[edit]

In the British and Irish metrication processes, the pint was replaced by metric units as the legally defined primary unit of measure for trading by volume or capacity, except for the sale of draught beer and cider, and milk in returnable containers.[10] The pint can still be used in those countries as a supplementary unit in all circumstances. Local legislation in both the UK and Ireland mandates[citation needed] the use of the pint as a measure for draught beer and cider (in pubs for instance). For milk, if returnable containers are used, the pint can still be the principal unit used, otherwise metric units (usually the non-SI litre) must be used. There is no requirement for the litre quantity to be round numbers: thus the quantity of milk sold in a non-returnable container may be 1 pint, but will have "568 ml 1 pint", or just "568 ml" on the label. Many recipes published in the UK and Ireland still give ingredient quantities in imperial, where the pint is often used as a unit for larger liquid quantities.[citation needed] The Guild of Food Writers recommends that new recipes be published in metric units.[11]

The British Virgin Islands[citation needed] also require that beer and cider be sold in pints. Also in Canada water amounts in air purifiers are advertised in pints as well as BTUs ("British thermal units"), see metrication.

In Australia and New Zealand, a subtle change was made to 1 pint milk bottles during the conversion from imperial to metric in the 1970s. The height and diameter of the milk bottle remained unchanged, so that existing equipment for handling and storing the bottles was unaffected, but the shape was adjusted to increase the capacity from 568 mL to 600 mL – a conveniently rounded metric measure. Such milk bottles are no longer officially referred to as pints. However the "pint glass" in pubs in Australia remains closer to the standard imperial pint, at 570 mL. It holds about 500 mL of beer and about 70 mL of froth, except in South Australia where a pint is served in a 425 mL glass and a 570 mL glass is called an "imperial pint". In New Zealand, there is no longer any legal requirement for beer to be served in standard measures: in pubs, the largest size of glass, which is referred to as a pint, varies, but usually contains 425 mL.[12]

In Canada, the "pint of beer" served in pubs and bars has long been considered a colloquial term for "a large glass of beer". Legally speaking, after 1873 it was defined as one British imperial pint of 20 imperial ounces. On the other hand, the United States continued to use a smaller 16 ounce pint, while in French Canada after 1873 a "pinte de bière" was defined as a much larger 40 ounce quart of beer, so confusion arose to which was being used. Prior to 1961, bottled beer in Canada was served in two sizes, colloquially known as "quarts" and "pints." They were 22 and 12 imperial ounces (625 and 341 mL), respectively, which were much smaller than the British units. Some provinces banned the sale of beer in the larger bottle. For example, in Ontario in the 1950s only the smaller size could be sold, but in Quebec both sizes were about equally common. The numerous incompatibilities between traditional Canadian, British, French, and American unit systems was one of the driving forces behind metrication in Canada.

After metrication in Canada, companies sold milk and other liquids in metric units so conversion issues could no longer arise. Legally speaking, although some British imperial units are still legally usable in Canada, as a result of Canada's colonial history, the "pint" served in drinking establishments in Canada should be the larger 20 ounce British imperial pint, rather than the smaller 16 ounce American traditional pint. Under the Canada Weights and Measures Act, if asked for a "pint of beer", businesses should serve customers 0.568 litres of beer with an accuracy of 0.5%, and if asked for a "pinte de bière" they should serve them 1.136 litres.[13] The problem with that definition that is that Canada is immediately adjacent to the US and Canadians are much more familiar with American traditional units than British imperial ones. Canada converted to the metric system more than 40 years ago and the British imperial system of units has not been taught in schools for almost two generations. Most of the people serving drinks are unaware of the difference between American traditional pints and British imperial pints, so they will often serve 16 ounce American pints (often including 2 ounces of foam) rather than larger 20 ounce British pints (traditionally not including foam). This sometimes upsets British immigrants and older Canadians who remember imperial pints. To avoid legal issues, many drinking establishments are moving away from using the term "pint" and are selling “glasses” or “sleeves” of beer, neither of which have a legal definition.[14]

A 375 mL bottle of liquor in the US and the Canadian maritime provinces is sometimes referred to as a "pint" and a 200 mL bottle is called a "half-pint", harking back to the days when liquor came in US pints, fifths, quarts, and half-gallons.[15] Liquor in the US has been sold in metric-sized bottles since 1980 although beer is still sold in US traditional units.[16]

In France, a standard 250 mL measure of beer is known as un demi ("a half"), originally meaning a half pint.


Pint comes from the Old French word pinte and perhaps ultimately from Latin picta meaning "painted", for a line painted on the side of a glass marking a one-pint volume of ale.[17]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ American Journal of Physics, v.67(1), 1999-Jan, p.13-16, Romer,R.H.; Editorial: Units: SI only, or multi-cultural diversity?
  2. ^ a b Fifty imperial pints or sixty US liquid pints are both very close to one cubic foot.
  3. ^ after the 1985 (UK), c. 1964 (Canada), redefinition of the imperial gallon
  4. ^ Text of the Units of Measurement Regulations 1995 (Schedule) as originally enacted or made within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database
  5. ^ One US liquid gallon is defined as 231 cubic inches.
  6. ^ a b after the 1964 redefinition of the litre and the 1959 redefinition of the inch
  7. ^ a b Palaiseau, JFG (October 1816). Métrologie universelle, ancienne et moderne: ou rapport des poids et mesures des empires, royaumes, duchés et principautés des quatre parties du monde. Bordeaux. p. 8. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  8. ^ The site Measurement Canada contains a wealth of documentation on official Canadian measurements. The French language version of the site is Mesures Canada.
  9. ^ Ross, Lester A. (1983), Archeological Metrology: English, French, American and Canadian systems of Weights and Measures for North American Historical Archeology, Government of Canada), retrieved 10 November 2014 
  10. ^ Weights and measures, Business Link (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), retrieved 12 November 2011 
  11. ^ "Campaigns – Metrication". Guild of Food Writers. Retrieved 2 December 2011. 
  12. ^ "Is a pint really a pint in Wellington?, 6 Sept 2012, The Dominion
  13. ^ Weights and Measures Act, Government of Canada, 1985, retrieved November 8, 2014 
  14. ^ More than half of Vancouver bars aren't pouring real pints, National Post, July 18, 2014, retrieved November 2, 2014 
  15. ^ Elizabeth E. Epstein, Barbara S. McCrady. Overcoming Alcohol Use Problems: A Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Program. Oxford University Press. p. 7. 
  16. ^ US Code title 27 Part 5
  17. ^ "Pint". 2013. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 

External links[edit]