I have a location of north 45 degrees, west 90 degrees. This is the coordinate of the point. What is each component of this coordinate called? I'm looking for a generic term to describe either component but not both together (that's the coordinate).


4 Answers 4


I found this definition for Cartesian Coordinates at Dictionary.com:

Cartesian coordinates in Technology

mathematics, graphics (After Renee Descartes, French philosopher and mathematician) A pair of numbers, (x, y), defining the position of a point in a two-dimensional space by its perpendicular projection onto two axes which are at right angles to each other. x and y are also known as the abscissa and ordinate. The idea can be generalised to any number of independent axes.

I think you would call either the latitude part or the longitude part a coordinate. Both the latitude and longitude parts together are the coordinates.

In other words, where you say:

This is the coordinate of the point.

I would say:

These are the coordinates of the point.

It seems to be used by GPS/GIS in a similar manner. For example, I saw this at http://www.gps-coordinates.net/:

Latitude, longitude and address of any point on Google Maps

Click directly on the map to get an address and its GPS coordinates. The latitude coordinate and the longitude coordinate are displayed on the left column and on the map.

  • 1
    I don't think that's correct. A Cartesian coordinate (singular) is composed of the abscissa (x) and ordinate (y). Jan 31, 2015 at 3:11
  • I think it would be possible to use "coordinates" for a single point (e.g. "take the coordinates for the building from the map"). So it could be ambiguous about what is meant.
    – BradHards
    Jan 31, 2015 at 3:42
  • @DenaliHardtail Don't know I agree with that. A coordinate (singular) is actually short for coordinate pair - hence an x coordinate and a y coordinate. It's even in the word (co). I wonder how a linguistics expert would determine 'proper' use of coordinate vs coordinates. Maybe the latter only applies to the components of a point and not multiple points? Maybe both? Moose is both singular and plural... But along your lines of thinking (with abscissa and ordinate), I would say that latitude and longitude are the words you want - see comments on my answer and BradHards answer.
    – Chris W
    Feb 1, 2015 at 1:24
  • I agree with @DenaliHardtail. It says it directly in the answer - each component is either abscissa or ordinate. Together they form a COordinate (or COordinates).
    – phloem
    Feb 1, 2015 at 19:10

A coordinate is a number in an ordered pair that names the location of a point on the coordinate plane. The first number in the ordered pair is called the abscissa and the second number is the ordinate. (Math Goodies Glossary)

coordinate: Each of a group of numbers used to indicate the position of a point, line, or plane. (Oxford Living Dictionary)

A coordinate is one of the numbers in an ordered pair (or group), not the pair itself. Since your pair indicates a position on the earth's surface (45N, 90W), each component would be a geographic coordinate. The first (geo) coordinate indicates latitude, and the second coordinate is the longitude.


I think it depends on your target audience, but ideally you'd refer to them as the latitude or longitude as appropriate (i.e. say what you mean).

If you really need a generic term (e.g. you can't fix the user interface), then perhaps you could use one of:

  • "number of degrees"
  • "coordinate part"
  • "coordinate element", or
  • "coordinate angle".

Easting and Northing are the terms I typically hear when not specifically saying lat/lon(g). While the words imply a direction, west 90 degrees would simply be an Easting of -90.

Note it is understood with lat/lon you're starting from the Prime Meridian and equator. An Easting/Northing can start from any baseline, so if that's not specified you don't really know exactly where you're talking about. Easting and Northing are generic terms, not specific to a single coordinate system.

The UTM zones, for example, all have a False Easting value. This shifts the Y axis to the west so that all coordinates within the zone have positive values instead of possibly having negative values. You can have a coordinate with a negative value, but that just means it falls outside the area the zone was intended for.

You might also say meridian (longitude) and parallel (latitude).

  • Certainly valid for some audiences, but it has a more technical meaning (e.g. my Mum and Dad probably wouldn't understand those terms in the same way I would). If I heard it, I'd be expecting UTM / MGRS or something similar, rather than some degrees.
    – BradHards
    Jan 31, 2015 at 23:49
  • @BradHards I don't know about "more technical" but I agree they're not perfect. As asker points out in comment, in Cartesian coordinate mathematics (and only 2D? I don't see or know of another name for z when you hit 3D, or if these still apply) the x and y are known as abscissa and ordinate. However in a geographic CRS they're simply known as the longitude and the latitude (which perhaps negates OP's question altogether). Easting and northing might be more suited to only projected CRS. Maybe this requires a geodesy expert to answer at a technical level?
    – Chris W
    Feb 1, 2015 at 1:16

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