Relative Location vs Absolute Location

Relative Location vs Absolute Location

Relative Location

When telling people your location there are two ways you can do it.

You can give them the relative location, or the absolute location.

Using the word relative gives you a clue to how this works 

Relative – related – a relationship 

So using this requires a relationship between two places.

Telling someone where I am with a relative position means I’m telling them where I am related to another location.

For example — I’m across the street from the school.

Or — my school is NORTH of the school. So, the school is South of my house.

But you don’t have to use directions necessarily. You can use distance too.

My House is 1 mile away from the school. 

Or even time —

My house is 5 minutes away from the school.

You could use cost as well.

My house is a $1 taxi ride away from the school.

And of course you could combine them in various ways.

My house is a 5 minute drive heading north one mile from the school.

So, the main take away from the relative location is that it is not a fixed location. It changes based on your current location.

If I’m at my house the store is south of me, but if I’m at school the store is North of me. Someone in the city next to use might be over here and would say that the store is west of their house. Or, in a city on the other side might say that the store is west of them.

Relative location is used regularly in common conversations. People rarely will give you precise locations when describing how to get to common locations.

But sometimes, a relative location is not very useful. In those moments we will use an Absolute Location.

Absolute Location

When you give someone the location of something and it has to be 100% correct.

No room for error.

There is no doubt or misunderstanding of what you meant.

You may want to give an absolute location of something.

For example you could tell a delivery driver to drop some pizza off at your house with a relative location…. 

Like–

My house is one mile down the road on the right. It’s the blue house across the street from the school.

This works well most of the time, but what if there are two blue houses. Or the driver goes a little over or under a mile, maybe they missed the school.

Well, an absolute location could work, better. You could give them the address.

Like — I live at 123 Main St. 

This address is an absolute location. With it I can find an absolute location. 

A dictionary definition might define absolute like this  “exists independently” or “not in relation to other things”

Which means this is the only house with this address so there should be no confusion.

Of course we do use absolute locations when ordering pizza all the time. But we might also add some relative location directions also to make it easier. 

Like I live at 123 Main St. It’s the blue house across the street from the school about 1 mile down the road.

Combining them makes it easier to find locations much of the time.

Sometimes addresses don’t work though… what if you’re in the middle of the jungle, the desert, the arctic… or the ocean. 

Well, then we can use coordinates, which we discussed in another video.

For example a boat is trying to find its way to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The boat is 30 degrees North and 15 degrees west. By looking at those coordinates you can see the boat is close, but not quite there.

Giving the exact coordinates of the canary islands can get you to where you are going… This is an absolute location.

You could also give them relative location directions and tell them that they are north of the islands and they need to sail south, southwest from their current location.

Both can help them out, but the coordinates are precise. There is no need to describe what they are looking for.

In conclusion absolute location uses man made systems, like coordinates or addresses, to give a precise location of something in order to guarantee there is no confusion in finding it.

Related Articles

Compass Rose

Cartographers put a compass rose on a map so that you can see where things are located in relation to another.

A compass rose can be a simple 4 Point with just the 4 cardinal directions that we learned in the previous video: North, South, East, and West.

Responses