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Height vs. Altitude: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 6, 2023
Height refers to the distance vertically from a base level to a point, while altitude is specifically the vertical distance above a reference point, usually the Earth's surface.

Key Differences

Height is generally used to describe how tall something or someone is, often measured from bottom to top. Altitude, on the other hand, is a specific term used to denote the elevation or distance above a certain reference point, particularly above sea level or ground level.
Height can be used to describe the stature of a person, the extent of an object, or the peak of a structure. It's a versatile term in everyday contexts. Altitude is a more specialized term, often used in aviation, geography, and other scientific fields to express the vertical distance from the Earth's surface.
When talking about the height of a building, one refers to how tall the building is from its base to its top. Discussing the altitude of an aircraft, it means the measurement of the aircraft’s position relative to sea level or the ground below.
Height is also used in mathematics and geometry to express the distance from the base to the top of a figure or shape. Altitude still holds its specific meaning in these contexts, often relating to measurements above a standard datum point in various applications.
The term height can also be metaphorical, referring to the peak or zenith of an abstract concept, such as "the height of fame." Altitude does not typically carry a metaphorical use and remains a measure of physical vertical distance in relation to the Earth's surface.

Comparison Chart


Vertical extent of something
Vertical distance above a point


General use
Specific (aviation, geography)

Relation to a reference

Base to point
Earth's surface/sea level

Fields of application

General, geometry
Aviation, science, geography

Metaphorical use

Yes (e.g., height of success)

Height and Altitude Definitions


Vertical measurement.
The height of the building is 200 feet.


Above ground level.
The drone was flying at an altitude of 400 feet.


Stature of a person.
He reached a height of six feet by his teens.


Aircraft's vertical position.
The plane cruised at an altitude of 35,000 feet.


Top point of an object.
The bookshelf's height makes it hard to reach the top shelf.


Astronomical object's angle.
The sun's altitude was 45 degrees above the horizon.


Elevation above ground.
The height from the ground to the window was measured.


Elevation above sea level.
The city has an altitude of 5,000 feet.


Peak of a structure.
The mountain's height is imposing.


High position in society.
She reached an altitude of great influence.


Abbr. h The distance from the base of something to the top.


The height of a thing above a reference level, especially above sea level or above the earth's surface.


Great height or elevation
Has trouble breathing at altitude.


What instruments measure height?

Rulers, tape measures, and laser devices measure height.

Can height apply to both living and non-living things?

Yes, height can apply to both.

Is altitude always measured from sea level?

Not always; it can also be measured from ground level.

Can height be measured in units other than feet?

Yes, height can be measured in any unit of length.

Is altitude used in space travel?

Yes, but it's often termed as "orbital altitude" in space.

What instruments measure altitude?

Altimeters and GPS devices measure altitude.

What is 'service ceiling' in terms of altitude?

It's the maximum altitude at which an aircraft can maintain flight.

Can height be negative?

In certain contexts like below ground level, it can be considered negative.

Is it correct to say 'altitude of a person'?

Typically, we use height for a person.

Are there synonyms for height?

Elevation, stature, and tallness can be synonyms for height.

Can height refer to an abstract concept?

Yes, such as "the height of his career."

Does height require a reference point?

Height requires a base reference, such as the ground or bottom of an object.

Are there synonyms for altitude?

Elevation is also a synonym for altitude.

Does altitude have an abstract meaning?

No, altitude typically has a literal, physical meaning.

Is height used in topographic maps?

Elevation is more commonly used than height in topography.

How does weather affect altitude readings?

Air pressure changes can affect altitude measurements.

What does 'height above average terrain' mean?

It's a measure used in broadcasting to determine signal coverage.

Is 'above sea level' synonymous with altitude?

Yes, it is commonly used to describe altitude.

Do plants have height or altitude?

Plants have height, not altitude.

Can altitude affect human health?

Yes, high altitudes can cause altitude sickness.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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