Centrifugal vs. centripetal

  • Centrifugal describes things that (1) move or are directed away from a center, (2) operate by means of centrifugal force, or (3) tend away from centralization. Centripetal‘s meanings are opposite; centripetal things (1) move or are directed toward a center, (2) operate by means of centripetal force, or (3) tend toward centralization. Like many antonym pairs that are fairly rare and similar in sound, centrifugal and centripetal are easy to confuse.


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    India represents “diversity in unity,” a centrifugal state reined in by only the very loosest and most fragile of bonds. [Globe and Mail]

    She directs everybody, making it clear she is the centripetal force in this galaxy. [Calcutta Telegraph]

    In an age when shared information is the bedrock of shared experience, the filter bubble is a centrifugal force, pulling us apart. [CNN]

    Everything in the film seems to have a centripetal force that holds it together. []

    When negotiating a turn, centrifugal force increases the load to between 5 and 10 times body weight. [New York Times]

    Keeping an object moving in an orbit requires a centripetal force, directed Earthward. [BBC News]


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