Vectors are essential to physics and engineering. Many fundamental physical quantities are vectors, including displacement, velocity, force, and electric and magnetic vector fields. Scalar products of vectors define other fundamental scalar physical quantities, such as energy. Vector products of vectors define still other fundamental vector physical quantities, such as torque and angular momentum. In other words, vectors are a component part of physics in much the same way as sentences are a component part of literature.

In introductory physics, vectors are Euclidean quantities that have geometric representations as arrows in one dimension (in a line), in two dimensions (in a plane), or in three dimensions (in space). They can be added, subtracted, or multiplied. In this chapter, we explore elements of vector algebra for applications in mechanics and in electricity and magnetism. Vector operations also have numerous generalizations in other branches of physics.

Contributors and Attributions

Samuel J. Ling (Truman State University), Jeff Sanny (Loyola Marymount University), and Bill Moebs with many contributing authors. This work is licensed by OpenStax University Physics under a Creative Commons Attribution License (by 4.0).