The tonne is a non-SI unit of mass equal to 1,000 kilograms. It is commonly referred to as a metric ton in the United States. It is equivalent to approximately 2,204.6 pounds, 1.102 short tons (US) or 0.984 long tons (UK). Although not part of the SI, the tonne is officially accepted for use with SI units and prefixes by the International Committee for Weights and Measures. One tonne is also equal to one megagram, a less common way to express the same mass.
Before metrication in the UK the unit used for most purposes was the Imperial ton of 2,240 pounds avoirdupois or 20 hundredweight (usually referred to as the long ton in the US), equivalent to 1,016 kg, differing by just 1.6% from the tonne. The UK Weights and Measures Act 1985 explicitly excluded from use for trade certain imperial units, including the ton, unless the item being sold or the weighing equipment being used was weighed or certified prior to 1 December 1980, and even then only if the buyer was made aware that the weight of the item was measured in imperial units.
Ton and tonne are both derived from a Germanic word in general use in the North Sea area since the Middle Ages (cf. Old English and Old Frisian tunne, Old High German and Medieval Latin tunna, German and French tonne) to designate a large cask, or tun. A full tun, standing about a metre high, could easily weigh a tonne. An English tun (an old wine cask volume measurement equivalent to nine hundred, and fifty-four litres) of wine has a relative mass of one tonne, nine hundred, and fifty-four kg if full of pure water, a little less for wine.
The spelling tonne pre-dates the introduction of the SI in 1960; it has been used with this meaning in France since 1842, when there were no metric prefixes for multiples of 106 and above, and is now used as the standard spelling for the metric mass measurement in most English-speaking countries. In the United States, the unit was originally referred to using the French words millier or tonneau, but these terms are now obsolete. The Imperial and US customary units comparable to the tonne are both spelled ton in English, though they differ in mass.
The tonne of trinitrotoluene (TNT) is used as a proxy for energy, usually of explosions (TNT is a common high explosive). Prefixes are used: kiloton(ne), megaton(ne), gigaton(ne), especially for expressing nuclear weapon yield, based on a specific combustion energy of TNT of about 4.2 MJ/kg (or one thermochemical calorie per milligram). Hence, 1 t TNT = 4.2 GJ, 1 kt TNT = 4.2 TJ, 1 Mt TNT = 4.2 PJ.
In the petroleum industry the tonne of oil equivalent (toe) is a unit of energy: the amount of energy released by burning one tonne of crude oil, approximately 42 GJ. There are several slightly different definitions. This is ten times as much as a tonne of TNT because atmospheric oxygen is used.
Like the gram and the kilogram, the tonne gave rise to a (now obsolete) force unit of the same name, the tonne-force, equivalent to about 9.8 kilonewtons: a unit also often called simply "tonne" or "metric ton" without identifying it as a unit of force. In contrast to the tonne as a mass unit, the tonne-force or metric ton-force is not acceptable for use with SI, partly because it is not an exact multiple of the SI unit of force, the newton.