Outside of the SI, it is sometimes desirable to convert a single unit to a sum of units—for example, feet to feet plus inches. The conversion from sums of units was described in Sums and Differences of Units, and is a simple matter of adding the units with the ‘+’ sign:
You have: 12 ft + 3 in + 3|8 in You want: ft * 12.28125 / 0.081424936
Although you can similarly write a sum of units to convert to, the result will not be the conversion to the units in the sum, but rather the conversion to the particular sum that you have entered:
You have: 12.28125 ft You want: ft + in + 1|8 in * 11.228571 / 0.089058524
The unit expression given at the ‘You want:’ prompt is equivalent to asking for conversion to multiples of ‘1 ft + 1 in + 1|8 in’, which is 1.09375 ft, so the conversion in the previous example is equivalent to
You have: 12.28125 ft You want: 1.09375 ft * 11.228571 / 0.089058524
In converting to a sum of units like miles, feet and inches, you typically want the largest integral value for the first unit, followed by the largest integral value for the next, and the remainder converted to the last unit. You can do this conversion easily with units using a special syntax for lists of units. You must list the desired units in order from largest to smallest, separated by the semicolon (‘;’) character:
You have: 12.28125 ft You want: ft;in;1|8 in 12 ft + 3 in + 3|8 in
The conversion always gives integer coefficients on the units in the list, except possibly the last unit when the conversion is not exact:
You have: 12.28126 ft You want: ft;in;1|8 in 12 ft + 3 in + 3.00096 * 1|8 in
The order in which you list the units is important:
You have: 3 kg You want: oz;lb 105 oz + 0.051367866 lb You have: 3 kg You want: lb;oz 6 lb + 9.8218858 oz
Listing ounces before pounds produces a technically correct result, but not a very useful one. You must list the units in descending order of size in order to get the most useful result.
Ending a unit list with the separator ‘;’ has the same effect as repeating the last unit on the list, so ‘ft;in;1|8 in;’ is equivalent to ‘ft;in;1|8 in;1|8 in’. With the example above, this gives
You have: 12.28126 ft You want: ft;in;1|8 in; 12 ft + 3 in + 3|8 in + 0.00096 * 1|8 in
in effect separating the integer and fractional parts of the coefficient for the last unit. If you instead prefer to round the last coefficient to an integer you can do this with the --round (-r) option. With the previous example, the result is
You have: 12.28126 ft You want: ft;in;1|8 in 12 ft + 3 in + 3|8 in (rounded down to nearest 1|8 in)
When you use the -r option, repeating the last unit on the list has no effect (e.g., ‘ft;in;1|8 in;1|8 in’ is equivalent to ‘ft;in;1|8 in’), and hence neither does ending a list with a ‘;’. With a single unit and the -r option, a terminal ‘;’ does have an effect: it causes units to treat the single unit as a list and produce a rounded value for the single unit. Without the extra ‘;’, the -r option has no effect on single unit conversions. This example shows the output using the -r option:
You have: 12.28126 ft You want: in * 147.37512 / 0.0067854058 You have: 12.28126 ft You want: in; 147 in (rounded down to nearest in)
Each unit that appears in the list must be conformable with the first unit on the list, and of course the listed units must also be conformable with the unit that you enter at the ‘You have:’ prompt.
You have: meter You want: ft;kg ^ conformability error ft = 0.3048 m kg = 1 kg You have: meter You want: lb;oz conformability error 1 m 0.45359237 kg
In the first case, units reports the disagreement between units appearing on the list. In the second case, units reports disagreement between the unit you entered and the desired conversion. This conformability error is based on the first unit on the unit list.
Other common candidates for conversion to sums of units are angles and time:
You have: 23.437754 deg You want; deg;arcmin;arcsec 23 deg + 26 arcmin + 15.9144 arcsec You have: 7.2319 hr You want: hr;min;sec 7 hr + 13 min + 54.84 sec
In North America, recipes for cooking typically measure ingredients by volume, and use units that are not always convenient multiples of each other. Suppose that you have a recipe for 6 and you wish to make a portion for 1. If the recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups of an ingredient, you might wish to know the measurements in terms of measuring devices you have available, you could use units and enter
You have: (2+1|2) cup / 6 You want: cup;1|2 cup;1|3 cup;1|4 cup;tbsp;tsp;1|2 tsp;1|4 tsp 1|3 cup + 1 tbsp + 1 tsp
By default, if a unit in a list begins with fraction of the form 1|x and its multiplier is an integer, the fraction is given as the product of the multiplier and the numerator; for example,
You have: 12.28125 ft You want: ft;in;1|8 in; 12 ft + 3 in + 3|8 in
In many cases, such as the example above, this is what is wanted, but sometimes it is not. For example, a cooking recipe for 6 might call for 5 1/4 cup of an ingredient, but you want a portion for 2, and your 1-cup measure is not available; you might try
You have: (5+1|4) cup / 3 You want: 1|2 cup;1|3 cup;1|4 cup 3|2 cup + 1|4 cup
This result might be fine for a baker who has a 1 1/2-cup measure (and recognizes the equivalence), but it may not be as useful to someone with more limited set of measures, who does want to do additional calculations, and only wants to know “How many 1/2-cup measures to I need to add?” After all, that's what was actually asked. With the --show-factor option, the factor will not be combined with a unity numerator, so that you get
You have: (5+1|4) cup / 3 You want: 1|2 cup;1|3 cup;1|4 cup 3 * 1|2 cup + 1|4 cup
A user-specified fractional unit with a numerator other than 1 is never overridden, however—if a unit list specifies ‘3|4 cup;1|2 cup’, a result equivalent to 1 1/2 cups will always be shown as ‘2 * 3|4 cup’ whether or not the --show-factor option is given.
Some applications for unit lists may be less obvious. Suppose that you have a postal scale and wish to ensure that it's accurate at 1 oz, but have only metric calibration weights. You might try
You have: 1 oz You want: 100 g;50 g; 20 g;10 g;5 g;2 g;1 g; 20 g + 5 g + 2 g + 1 g + 0.34952312 * 1 g
You might then place one each of the 20 g, 5 g, 2 g, and 1 g weights on the scale and hope that it indicates close to
You have: 20 g + 5 g + 2 g + 1 g You want: oz; 0.98767093 oz
Appending ‘;’ to ‘oz’ forces a one-line display that includes the unit; here the integer part of the result is zero, so it is not displayed.
A unit list such as
cup;1|2 cup;1|3 cup;1|4 cup;tbsp;tsp;1|2 tsp;1|4 tsp
can be tedious to enter. The units program provides shorthand names for some common combinations:
hms hours, minutes, seconds dms angle: degrees, minutes, seconds time years, days, hours, minutes and seconds usvol US cooking volume: cups and smaller
Using these shorthands, or unit list aliases, you can do the following conversions:
You have: anomalisticyear You want: time 1 year + 25 min + 3.4653216 sec You have: 1|6 cup You want: usvol 2 tbsp + 2 tsp
You cannot combine a unit list alias with other units: it must appear alone at the ‘You want:’ prompt.
You can display the definition of a unit list alias by entering it at the ‘You have:’ prompt:
You have: dms Definition: unit list, deg;arcmin;arcsec
When you specify compact output with --compact, --terse or -t and perform conversion to a unit list, units lists the conversion factors for each unit in the list, separated by semicolons.
You have: year You want: day;min;sec 365;348;45.974678
Unlike the case of regular output, zeros are included in this output list:
You have: liter You want: cup;1|2 cup;1|4 cup;tbsp 4;0;0;3.6280454