What is the Difference Between Volume and Capacity?

The main difference between volume and capacity is that volume is a characteristic of a substance, and capacity is the holding capacity of an object.

There are different units of measurement for the object in everyday life. The measurement system varies for two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects. The two main ways that 3-d objects can be measured are volume and capacity. Although the terms are used interchangeably in everyday life, they are very different.

The volume is the space that a substance occupies in any state, while the capacity is the amount of substance that said container or medium could contain.

For example, there is a glass with some water. The area occupied by the water, in this case, would be the volume. However, the amount of water needed to fill the glass to the brim will be its capacity.

Comparison Table Between Volume and Capacity





The total amount of space covered by matter in any state, solid, liquid, or gas.

The amount of substance that a medium can contain in that state.


Basically it is the amount of substance in question, with respect to the space it occupies.

Potential carrying capacity of an object.


Volume is usually measured in cubic meters or cubic centimeters.

Capacity is measured in liters and gallons


Any object, regardless of state, can have volume as long as it covers space.

Capacity is a characteristic feature of hollow or porous objects.


The amount of milk in a carton is the volume of milk.

The maximum amount of milk required to fill the cartoon is the capacity of the carton.

What is volume?

Mathematically, volume is the space it occupies or the amount of space it encloses. The volume of a substance can be calculated for a given substance if it exists in a regular geometric shape, e.g., cube, sphere, etc., using assigned formulas.

The general formula for calculating the volume of an object is to multiply the height, width, and length together. Integral calculus can be used to calculate the volume of certain irregular shapes.

One-dimensional and two-dimensional objects have zero volume. Volume is measured in cubic meters and cubic centimeters. The term cubic means the number of cubes of the given unit placed inside the closed space.

Another technique used to calculate the volume of a substance is called fluid displacement. The fluid displacement principle states that the volume of fluid displaced by the object, when submerged, is equal to the space occupied by the object, so this becomes the object’s volume. This technique is especially useful for measuring the volume of a solid object, especially if the shape is irregular.

The unit of volume can be derived from its corresponding unit of length. The international standard or SI unit for volume is the cubic meter (c3).

What is capacity?

Capacity refers to the ability of a substance to retain matter. The general term capacity can be applied to several places that indicate potential. Mathematically, capacity is the maximum amount of substance, usually fluid, that can be placed inside said object.

Capacity in math is closely related to volume. However, there is a slight difference in calculating volume and capacity. When calculating the capacity of a container, only the hollow space is considered. Hence it is the amount of liquid necessary to fill the object; however, in the case of volume, the entire object is taken into account, including the dimensions of the container.

The metric term used to express the capacity of a substance is liters, gallons, etc. The conversion between liters and cubic meters is quite simple.

Capacity is generally a characteristic feature of objects. It is the most used term in daily life. The amount of product inside a bottle of shampoo that we buy is indicated in liters because you will be charged according to the cost of the shampoo; hence the capacity of the container is important.

To better understand this, consider a thermosteel bottle. Such bottles have multiple layers of thermostatic substance coated within the walls of the container. These bottles usually have a smaller capacity than anyone would calculate based on the total volume of the bottle.

Therefore, the capacity is the fluid retention potential of an object.

Main Differences Between Volume and Capacity

  • Volume is the measure of space occupied by mass, while capacity is the fluid retention potential of an object.
  • The amount of area occupied by a substance at a given time is its volume, versus the amount of liquid required to fill an object to the brim is its capacity.
  • Mathematically, volume is measured in cubic meters, while capacity is measured in liters.
  • Volume can be calculated using fluid displacement, while capacity cannot be calculated using fluid displacement.
  • Volume is a characteristic of the substance, while capacity is usually assigned to hollow objects such as containers.


Measurement of three-dimensional objects can be done by estimating both volume and capacity. Although both terms are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between the two.

The volume of a substance is the area enclosed within its boundaries, while the capacity is the maximum amount of fluid an object can hold.

The key difference to keep in mind when calculating the two is that the entire entity is considered in the case of volume. In contrast, when measuring capacity, the dimensions of the container are excluded from the calculations.

Courtesy: Queens College of Vocational Education, Melbourne

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