A one-US-gallon gas can showing "U.S. Gallon" marking (for US use), imperial gallons, and litres (for Canadian use)
General information
Unit ofVolume
Conversions (imperial)
1 imp gal in ...... is equal to ...
   SI units   4.54609 L
   US customary units   1.200950 US gal
   US customary units   277.4194 in3
Conversions (US)
1 US gal in ...... is equal to ...
   SI units   3.785411784 L
   Imperial units   0.8326742 imp gal
   Imperial units   231 in3
   US dry gallon   0.859367 US dry gal

The gallon is a unit of volume in imperial units and United States customary units. Three different versions are in current use:

There are two pints in a quart and four quarts in a gallon. Different sizes of pints account for the different sizes of the imperial and US gallons.

The IEEE standard symbol for both US (liquid) and imperial gallon is gal,[2] not to be confused with the gal (symbol: Gal), a CGS unit of acceleration.


The gallon currently has one definition in the imperial system, and two definitions (liquid and dry) in the US customary system. Historically, there were many definitions and redefinitions.

English system gallons

There were a number of systems of liquid measurements in the United Kingdom prior to the 19th century.[3]

Imperial gallon

A Shell petrol station selling 2* and 4* (leaded petrol) by the gallon in the UK, circa 1980
A Shell petrol station selling 2* and 4* (leaded petrol) by the gallon in the UK, circa 1980

The British imperial gallon (frequently called simply "gallon") is defined as exactly 4.54609 dm3 (4.54609 litres).[4] It is used in some Commonwealth countries, and until 1976 was defined as the volume of 10 pounds (4.5359237 kg) of water at 62 degrees Fahrenheit (16.67 °C).[5][6] There are four quarts in a gallon, two imperial pints in a quart, and there are 20 imperial fluid ounces in an imperial pint,[4] yielding 160 fluid ounces in an imperial gallon.

US liquid gallon

See also: United States customary units § Fluid volume

A fuel station in the United States displaying fuel prices per US gallon
A fuel station in the United States displaying fuel prices per US gallon

The US liquid gallon (frequently called simply "gallon") is legally defined as 231 cubic inches, which is exactly 3.785411784 litres.[7][8] A US liquid gallon can contain about 3.785 kilograms or 8.34 pounds of water at 3.98 °C (39.16 °F), and is about 16.7% less than the imperial gallon. There are four quarts in a gallon, two pints in a quart and 16 US fluid ounces in a US pint, which makes the US fluid ounce equal to 1/128 of a US gallon. In order to overcome the effects of expansion and contraction with temperature when using a gallon to specify a quantity of material for purposes of trade, it is common to define the temperature at which the material will occupy the specified volume. For example, the volume of petroleum products[9] and alcoholic beverages[10] are both referenced to 60 °F (15.6 °C) in government regulations.

US dry gallon

Main article: Dry gallon

Since the dry measure is one-eighth of a US Winchester bushel of 2150.42 cubic inches, it is equal to exactly 268.8025 cubic inches, which is 4.40488377086 L.[11] The US dry gallon is not used in commerce, and is also not listed in the relevant statute, which jumps from the dry pint to the bushel.[12]

Worldwide usage

Petrol units used in the world: .mw-parser-output .legend{page-break-inside:avoid;break-inside:avoid-column}.mw-parser-output .legend-color{display:inline-block;min-width:1.25em;height:1.25em;line-height:1.25;margin:1px 0;text-align:center;border:1px solid black;background-color:transparent;color:black}.mw-parser-output .legend-text{}  Litre  US gallon  Imperial gallon  No data
Petrol units used in the world:
  US gallon
  Imperial gallon
  No data

Imperial gallon

As of 2021, the imperial gallon continues to be used as the standard petrol unit in four British Overseas Territories (Anguilla,[13] the British Virgin Islands,[14][15] the Cayman Islands,[16] and Montserrat)[17][18] and six countries (Antigua and Barbuda,[19] Dominica,[20] Grenada,[21][22] Saint Christopher and Nevis,[23] Saint Lucia,[24] and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines).[25]

All of the countries and territories which use the imperial gallon as their petrol unit also use miles per hour for speed limits, and drive on the left side of the road.

The United Arab Emirates ceased selling petrol by the imperial gallon in 2010 and switched to the litre, with Guyana following suit in 2013.[26][27][28]

Burma subsequently switched from the imperial gallon to the litre in 2014.[29]

Antigua and Barbuda has proposed switching to selling petrol by litres since 2015.[30][19]

The gallon was removed from the list of legally defined primary units of measure catalogued in the EU directive 80/181/EEC for trading and official purposes, with effect from 31 December 1994. Under the directive the gallon could still be used, but only as a supplementary or secondary unit.[31] One of the effects of this directive was that the United Kingdom amended its own legislation to replace the gallon with the litre as a primary unit of measure in trade and in the conduct of public business, effective from 30 September 1995.[32][33][34] However within the United Kingdom and Ireland, barrels and large containers of beer, oil and other fluids are commonly in multiples of an imperial gallon.

Ireland also passed legislation in response to the EU directive, with the effective date being 31 December 1993.[35] Though the gallon has ceased to be a primary unit of trade, it can still be legally used in both the UK and Ireland as a supplementary unit.

Miles per imperial gallon is used as the primary fuel economy unit in the United Kingdom and as a supplementary unit in Canada on official documentation.[36][37][38]

US liquid gallon

Other than the United States, petrol is sold by the US gallon in Belize, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru, as well as in the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau, which are associated with the United States, and Liberia, a former protectorate of the United States.[39]

Despite its status as a US territory, and unlike American Samoa,[40] the Northern Mariana Islands,[41] Guam,[42] and the US Virgin Islands,[43] Puerto Rico ceased selling petrol by the US gallon in 1980.[44]

Panama ceased selling petrol in US gallons in 2013 and now uses litres, while El Salvador followed suit in June 2021.[45]

In the Turks and Caicos Islands, both the US gallon and imperial gallon are used due to an increase in tax duties which was disguised by levying the same duty on the US gallon (3.79 L) as was previously levied on the Imperial gallon (4.55 L).[46]

The Bahamas also uses both the US gallon and imperial gallon.[47][48]

Water chiller bottles in some parts of the Middle East (such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) are 19 L in volume, which approximates to 5 US gallons.[49]

Relationship to other units

Both the US liquid and imperial gallon are divided into four quarts (quarter gallons), which in turn are divided into two pints, which in turn are divided into two cups, (not in customary use outside the US), which in turn are further divided into two gills. Thus, both gallons are equal to four quarts, eight pints, sixteen cups, or thirty-two gills.

The imperial gill is further divided into five fluid ounces, whereas the US gill is divided into four fluid ounces, meaning an imperial fluid ounce is 1/20 of an imperial pint, or 1/160 of an imperial gallon, while a US fluid ounce is 1/16 of a US pint, or 1/128 of a US gallon. Thus, the imperial gallon, quart, pint, cup and gill are approximately 20% larger than their US counterparts, meaning these are not interchangeable, but the imperial fluid ounce is only approximately 4% smaller than the US fluid ounce, meaning these are often used interchangeably.

Historically, a common bottle size for liquor in the US was the "fifth", i.e. one-fifth of a US gallon (or one-sixth of an imperial gallon). While spirit sales in the US were switched to metric measures in 1976, a 750 mL bottle is still sometimes known as a "fifth".[50][51]


An American milk bottle with a volume of one US gallon
An American milk bottle with a volume of one US gallon

The term derives most immediately from galun, galon in Old Norman French,[52] but the usage was common in several languages, for example jale in Old French and gęllet (bowl) in Old English. This suggests a common origin in Romance Latin, but the ultimate source of the word is unknown.[53]

The gallon originated as the base of systems for measuring wine and beer in England. The sizes of gallon used in these two systems were different from each other: the first was based on the wine gallon (equal in size to the US gallon), and the second one either the ale gallon or the larger imperial gallon.

By the end of the 18th century, there were three definitions of the gallon in common use:

The corn or dry gallon is used (along with the dry quart and pint) in the United States for grain and other dry commodities. It is one-eighth of the (Winchester) bushel, originally defined as a cylindrical measure of 18+1/2 inches in diameter and 8 inches in depth, which made the dry gallon 8 in × (9+1/4 in)2 × π ≈ 2150.42017 cubic inches. The bushel was later defined to be 2150.42 cubic inches exactly, thus making its gallon exactly 268.8025 in3 (4.40488377086 L); in previous centuries, there had been a corn gallon of between 271 and 272 cubic inches.

The wine, fluid, or liquid gallon has been the standard US gallon since the early 19th century. The wine gallon, which some sources relate to the volume occupied by eight medieval merchant pounds of wine, was at one time defined as the volume of a cylinder 6 inches deep and 7 inches in diameter, i.e. 6 in × (3+1/2 in)2 × π ≈ 230.907 06 cubic inches. It was redefined during the reign of Queen Anne in 1706 as 231 cubic inches exactly, the earlier definition with π approximated to 22/7.

Although the wine gallon had been used for centuries for import duty purposes, there was no legal standard of it in the Exchequer, while a smaller gallon (224 cu in) was actually in use, requiring this statute; the 231 cubic inch gallon remains the U.S. definition today.

In 1824, Britain adopted a close approximation to the ale gallon known as the imperial gallon, and abolished all other gallons in favour of it. Inspired by the kilogram-litre relationship, the imperial gallon was based on the volume of 10 pounds of distilled water weighed in air with brass weights with the barometer standing at 30 inches of mercury and at a temperature of 62 °F (17 °C).

In 1963, this definition was refined as the space occupied by 10 pounds of distilled water of density 0.998859 g/mL weighed in air of density 0.001217 g/mL against weights of density 8.136 g/mL (the original "brass" was refined as the densities of brass alloys vary depending on metallurgical composition), which was calculated as 4.546091879 L to ten significant figures.[5]

The precise definition of exactly 4.54609 cubic decimetres (also 4.54609 L, ≈ 277.419433 in3) came after the litre was redefined in 1964. This was adopted shortly afterwards in Canada, and adopted in 1976 in the United Kingdom.[5]

Sizes of gallons

Historically, gallons of various sizes were used in many parts of Western Europe. In these localities, it has been replaced as the unit of capacity by the litre.

Comparison of gallons
Volume Definition Inverted
(gal/cu ft)
Weight as
water at 62 °F (17 °C)
Cylindrical approximation
(cu in) (dm3) Diameter
Volume rel.
Current gallons
231 3.785411784 Statute of 5 Queen Anne (UK wine gallon, standard US gallon) 7.48 8.33 7 6 0.04
268.8025 4.40488377086 Winchester, statute of 13 & 14 William III (corn gallon, US dry gallon) 6.43 9.71 18.5 1 0.00001
≈ 277.4194 4.54609 Standard imperial gallon ≈ 6.23 10 5⅔ 11 0.0002
Historic gallons
216 (Roman unciae) ≈ 3.53961 Roman congius 8 7.8 5 11 0.01
224 ≈ 3.67070 Preserved at the Guildhall, London (old UK wine gallon) 7.71 8.09 9 3.5 0.6
264.8 ≈ 4.33929 Ancient Rumford quart (1228) 6.53 9.57 7.5 6 0.1
265.5 ≈ 4.35077 Exchequer (Henry VII, 1497, with rim) 6.51 9.59 13 2 0.01
266.25 ≈ 4.36306 Ancient Rumford (1228)          
271 ≈ 4.44089 Exchequer (1601, E.) (old corn gallon) 6.38 9.79 4.5 17 0.23
272 ≈ 4.45728 Corn gallon (1688)          
≈ 277.2026 ≈ 4.54254 Statute of 12 Anne (coal gallon) = 33/32 corn gallons 6.23 10      
≈ 277.274 ≈ 4.54370 Imperial gallon, as originally determined in 1824 6.23 10      
≈ 277.4195 4.546091879 Imperial gallon as re-determined in 1895 and defined in 1963 ≈ 6.23 10      
278 ≈ 4.55560 Exchequer (Henry VII, with copper rim) 6.21 10.04      
278.4 ≈ 4.56216 Exchequer (1601 and 1602 pints) 6.21 10.06      
280 ≈ 4.58838 Exchequer (1601 quart) 6.17 10.1      
282 ≈ 4.62115 Treasury (beer and ale gallon pre-1824) 6.13 10.2      


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