How to Remember the Difference Between Latitude and Longitude

Caitlin Dempsey

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It can sometimes be confusing to remember the difference between latitude and longitude. Which one runs north to south and which one runs east to west?  Which one comes first when you see a set of coordinates?  Here in an easy way to remember the difference between latitude and longitude.

The Ladder Example

The easiest way to remember the difference between latitude and longitude is by associating the terms with different parts of a ladder.  Lines of latitude run east and west.  

Globe with a shaded relief showing lines of latitude with a view of the Americas.
Lines of latitude. Lines of latitude run horizontally around the Earth and tell you how far north or south you are from the Equator. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

To remember, think of the rungs of a ladder (which sounds somewhat similar to latitude) which run across, connecting the two longer pieces.  As the rungs go up and down a ladder, so do the lines of latitude.  

The equator, which is a zero degree latitude, marks the middle of the earth and lines of latitude spread out to both poles.  


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Shaded relief map of the world with a bold white line showing the location of the Equator.
The Equator is located at a latitude of 0 degrees. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

A latitude reading will tell you how far north or south a location is.  

The North Pole is at 90 degrees latitude (or 90.0° N) and the south poles is at -90 degrees latitude (or 90.0° S).  Latitude degrees with a – sign indicate a location in the southern hemisphere and degrees with a positive number are located in the northern hemisphere.

Globe with a shaded relief showing lines of longitude with a view of Europe and Africa.
Lines of longitude. Lines of longitude run from pole to pole. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

Lines of longitude run from pole to pole.  To remember, think of the long parts of a ladder.  Longitude will indicate a location east or west of the prime meridian.  Lines of longitude go from zero at the Prime Meridian up to 180 at the International Date Line.  

The designator of east or west will indicate the relative direction the line of longitude is from the Prime Meridian.  Longitudes with a – sign indicate a location in the western hemisphere and degrees with a positive number are located in the eastern hemisphere.

A diagram showing a globe of the world next to a black ladder on the right.  Text explains how to use the analogy of a laser to differentiate latitude from longitude.
Diagram: Caitlin Dempsey.

Latitude and Longitude Poem

Here’s a little poem to help school children to remember:

I’m climbing the Ladder of Latitudes, latitudes, latitudes.
I’m climbing the ladder of latitudes, all around the world.

It’s a LONG LONG way from pole to pole, pole to pole, pole to pole.
It’s a LONG LONG way from pole to pole, so we call those LONGITUDES.

Which Comes First, Latitude or Longitude?

When you see a pair of coordinates and can’t remember whether latitude or longitude comes first, think about alphabetical order to remember.  

Latitude comes first in alphabetical order and it also is the first coordinate in a set.  Longitude is the second coordinate in the set.

See Also

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.