Skip to Content

What do we call when an object moves that goes from point A to point B?

When an object moves from one location to another, we call this motion or movement. More specifically, the motion that takes an object from an initial position (point A) to a final position (point B) over a period of time is referred to as translational motion or rectilinear motion.

Definitions of Motion

Motion is the action or process of something moving or being moved. It refers to a continuous change in the position of an object over time. Some key terms related to motion include:

  • Displacement – The change in position of an object.
  • Distance – The total length traveled by an object.
  • Speed – The distance traveled per unit of time.
  • Velocity – The speed of an object in a given direction.
  • Acceleration – The rate of change of velocity over time.

There are different types of motion depending on the specifics of how an object moves from point A to point B. Common types include:

  • Translational or rectilinear motion – Motion in a straight line from point A to B.
  • Circular motion – Motion along a circular path around a center point.
  • Periodic motion – Motion that repeats over a period of time, like a pendulum.
  • Oscillatory motion – Vibrating back and forth around an equilibrium point.
  • Rotational motion – Motion around an axis that goes through the body.

Translational or Rectilinear Motion

Translational or rectilinear motion refers specifically to motion in a straight line from point A to point B. The position changes along one dimension as the object moves through space over time. Some key aspects of translational motion include:

  • It occurs along a single axis going through the moving body.
  • The distance traveled equals the magnitude of the displacement between initial and final positions.
  • Velocity is a vector quantity with direction along the axis of motion.
  • Acceleration indicates change in velocity over time.

Examples of translational motion are a car driving down a straight road, a train moving along a straight track, or an object sliding across an icy surface. The motion proceeds linearly from start to finish along a defined path.

Describing Translational Motion

There are some key kinematic equations that are used to describe the characteristics of translational motion:

  • Displacement (d) – Change in position, which equals the final position (xf) minus the initial position (xi). d = xf – xi
  • Distance traveled (s) – The total length traversed by the object. Distance is a scalar quantity.
  • Velocity (v) – The rate of change in displacement over time. Velocity is a vector quantity that indicates speed and direction. v = Δd/Δt
  • Acceleration (a) – The rate of change in velocity over time. Acceleration is a vector quantity that indicates change in speed and/or direction. a = Δv/Δt

These equations allow us to mathematically describe the motion characteristics of an object moving in a straight line from point A to point B.

Causes of Translational Motion

For an object to exhibit translational motion, there must be an applied net force causing it to move. According to Newton’s laws of motion, an object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion unless compelled to change by an unbalanced force. Therefore, translational motion occurs when there is a non-zero net force acting on the object.

Some examples of net forces that can induce translational motion include:

  • Pushing or pulling an object exerts an external force.
  • Friction with a surface can cause a force parallel to the surface.
  • Gravity exerts a downward force called weight.
  • Tension in a rope or string produces an internal force.
  • Thrust from a jet or rocket engine provides a driving force.
  • Drag due to air resistance opposes motion with a friction-like force.

Whenever one of these non-zero net forces acts on an object, translational motion will result as the object changes position over time. The greater the net force, the greater the acceleration during the motion.

Examples of Translational Motion

Translational motion is very common in our everyday life. Here are some examples:

  • A hockey puck sliding across the ice
  • A rollercoaster car traveling along the track
  • The back-and-forth motion of a piston inside an engine
  • A ball thrown through the air in a straight line
  • A train moving down a railroad
  • A person walking in a straight line
  • A falling object moving under the influence of gravity

In each case, an object is moving linearly from point A to point B under the influence of external forces. The motion follows a defined path along one axis. We can describe the kinematic characteristics like displacement, velocity, and acceleration using equations.

Kinematic Equations for Uniform Acceleration

If an object moves with uniform or constant acceleration during its translational motion, we can derive some useful kinematic equations to describe its motion. Uniform acceleration means the rate of change of velocity is constant over time.

Here are four key kinematic equations for uniformly accelerated translational motion:

  • v = v0 + at
  • Δx = v0t + 1/2at2
  • v2 = v02 + 2aΔx
  • Δx = (v + v0)t/2


  • v = final velocity
  • v0 = initial velocity
  • a = uniform acceleration
  • t = time
  • Δx = displacement

These equations allow calculation of key motion variables if other variables are known. They only apply for motion with constant acceleration along a straight line path.

Examples Using Kinematic Equations

Let’s look at some examples using these kinematic equations:

Example 1

  • Car accelerates from 0 to 30 m/s over 10 seconds
  • a = ? v0 = 0 m/s, v = 30 m/s, t = 10 s
  • Using equation: v = v0 + at
  • 30 = 0 + a(10)
  • a = 3 m/s2

Example 2

  • Ball is thrown upwards with initial velocity 20 m/s
  • After 3 seconds, velocity is 0 m/s (at peak height)
  • a = -9.8 m/s2 (acceleration due to gravity)
  • Using equation: v = v0 + at
  • 0 = 20 + (-9.8)(3)
  • Checks out, so equations work!

These examples show how the kinematic equations can be used to analyze translational motion under uniform acceleration. The equations relate velocity, acceleration, displacement, and time.

Graphs of Translational Motion

Graphs are very useful for visually representing and analyzing translational motion. Some key graphs include:

  • Displacement-Time Graph – Plots displacement on the y-axis versus time on the x-axis. Slope represents velocity.
  • Velocity-Time Graph – Plots velocity on the y-axis over time on the x-axis. Slope represents acceleration.
  • Acceleration-Time Graph – Acceleration plotted versus time. For uniform acceleration, graph is a straight horizontal line.

These graphs visually indicate how displacement, velocity, and acceleration change over the course of the motion. We can derive kinematic equations from the slope or area under the graphs.

Displacement-Time Graph Example

For this displacement-time graph:

  • Slope = Δd/Δt = 20 m/10 s = 2 m/s. This gives velocity.
  • Area under graph = Δd. This gives displacement.

Solving Translational Motion Problems

To analyze a translational motion problem, follow this general process:

  1. Picture the initial and final positions.
  2. Identify known values like displacement, velocity, acceleration, and time.
  3. Determine which kinematic equations may apply.
  4. Plug known values into the equations and solve for unknowns.
  5. Check that results make logical sense.
  6. Consider graphing motion quantities versus time if needed.

With practice, setting up and solving kinematic motion problems becomes straightforward. Converting word problems into standard variables and equations is an important skill in physics.

Real World Applications

Understanding translational kinematics has many applications in physics, engineering, and technology. Some examples include:

  • Transportation – Analyzing acceleration and fuel consumption for vehicles.
  • Ballistics – Modeling projectile motion for military and sporting applications.
  • Aerospace – Designing spacecraft trajectories and controlling satellite positioning.
  • Physics Research – Modeling linear particle motion in accelerators and colliders.
  • Animation – Creating realistic object motions using kinematic equations and models.
  • Accident Reconstruction – Recreating motions from skid marks and damage to determine causes.

The concepts of displacement, velocity, acceleration and time provide powerful tools for studying and engineering all types of motion in the physical world.


In summary, the term used to describe motion going from point A to point B is translational or rectilinear motion. This refers to motion along a straight line path due to external forces producing acceleration. Key kinematic equations and graphs connect displacement, velocity, acceleration and time to characterize the motion. Translational kinematics provides an important foundation for analyzing motion problems in science and engineering.