When writing about GIS geometry I'm unsure whether to use the term "polygon" or "area".

In particular, does the word "polygon" suggest a specific type of geometry? For example, a colleague suggested to me that "polygon" is not an appropriate term for a donut feature!

But even if that's true, does anyone care? Is there any strong concensus either way on this?

Also, which word translates better into other languages such as German and French? I'm trying to consider users other than just English-speaking ones.

  • Thanks for the comments and answers. It confirms what I was thinking (and hoping) was the answer. I chose Pablo's as the accepted answer, but really it's the consensus of everyone that was most helpful. Cheers. May 31, 2011 at 16:29

5 Answers 5


OGC defines standards for geometry types. Among others there is the "Polygon" type and a polygon is a "Surface". OGC defines "area" as the measure of the "surface".

OGC: http://www.opengeospatial.org/standards enter image description here


In my experience, "polygon" is the word to use for describing the geometry type. (Compare database geometry types for example.)

"Area" to me suggests the actual area measure of the polygon feature.

"Polygon" is fine for German-speaking audience too.

@"Donut Polygon": A Google image search suggests that "donut polygon" is commonly used. "Donut Area" doesn't turn up any related images on the first page.


Area is a Measurement - Like Length, Perimeter etc

Polygon is a shape (geometry) - Like hexagon - but has area and length.



Vieleck - Polygon

Die Umgebung - The environment (reverse translate) - Area


Espace - Space - Area

Polygone - Polygon

So Polygon is a better word for Translation to German and French

  • 2
    More fitting German translations (considering the topic) for "area" are "Fläche" and "Flächeninhalt".
    – underdark
    May 30, 2011 at 21:28
  • I remember from working with Sicad that the German abbreviation was "FL" for polygon features - now I have an idea what that might have stood for! May 30, 2011 at 23:02

I like to use the google map features etc, but have never thought about the name of the map area inside the map. I have just always called them polygon maps, and that is that. Although most shapes that I use to create my ''polygon'' map is shaped differently, they are still just polygon maps. In the google refernce section, the map they create as a "area map" is referrred to as a polygon map.

Go figure ;-)


I agree with all the comments "saying polygon is the geometry, area is the measurement".
Also note that as in a recent GISse post, software specific terminolgy sometimes (often) plays part.
ESRI calls these "donut polygons" - multi polygons.

Oracle data types by Matthew McGranaghan
And this (11g) by Oracle Spatial data types
screenshot Linked pdf doumentation Page 68

There is also more to it than just the bounding coordinates, and the measurement of the area.
As noted in the linked document (McGranaghan), some polygons can be 3d objects, with a polyface mesh.
Oracle does a pretty good job of keeping it simple.
As noted in the linked document other software (RDBMS) can get tricky.
It should also be noted that Oracle is on the track with OGC ISO standards however not as SDO.

  • I wonder if that still applies to the later versions of Oracle Spatial ...
    – underdark
    May 31, 2011 at 14:06
  • I wondered that also, The oracle documentation has gotten quite difficlut to translate as there are many OGC initiatives. I'll stay on it and see if I can find definitive results.
    – Brad Nesom
    May 31, 2011 at 15:00

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