Difference Between Stress and Pressure

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Difference Between Stress and Pressure in Physics

The pressure is something that you observe in Pressure cookers, exam pressure, work pressure, and so on; however, if you talk about pressure in Physics, it makes a difference but how?

Well, in Physics, we define pressure as the physical force exerted on the object.

Also, we can define it as the perpendicular force applied per unit area of the object. And, when we say, a perpendicular force, we mean to say, it is stress.

In this article, we will start with the pressure and stress difference following the explanation.

Note: One thing to note is when pressure and stress are caused by applying a force, then how we can differentiate between stress and pressure? Quite confusing, right?

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We will proceed with the major difference in pressure and stress, following the real-life examples, and further explain these two in detail.

Difference Between Stress and Pressure



Stress applies at the internal level.

For example, when tensile stress is applied to a block of mass ‘m’, the interatomic force of attraction tries ro bring these molecules to their lattice points, so the restoring force acting inside is the stress.

The pressure applies externally to the surface.

For example, pressure on the ball or pressure on the surface of the fluid.

Stress acts on the solids only.

Pressure occurs on liquids, fluids, and gases

Stress is of two types viz: normal and shear

Normal stress is when you apply a force perpendicularly to the block of mass ‘m’.

Shear stress is a force applied parallel to the block.

Pressure occurs normally on the surface. For example, the normal pressure difference in the airfoil creates a lift.

Stress is a vector quantity. It means stress has both magnitude and direction both.

However, one more term adds to this physical quantity and that is the point of application.

Stress is named as the second-degree tensor.

The pressure is a scalar quantity. 

It means we are not sure if the pressure acts along x, y, or z-axis (direction), we only know the magnitude of the pressure applied in bar or atm units.

Though the unit for pressure and stress is the same, i.e., Nm-2; however, the difference stress and pressure can be explained by the formulas mentioned below:

In technical or mathematical terms, the formula for stress is:

Internal resistance = force/area

In technical terms, the formula for pressure is:

External force / area

Stress is the intensity of internal resisting forces developing at a point in the plane of the object. 

And, the point at which stress acts is the point of application.

In simple terms, the pressure is the intensity of external forces acting at a point.

Stress is an immeasurable quantity. 

We can measure the pressure by the measuring device.

Differentiate Pressure from Stress


Let’s suppose that you have a vessel filled with water and kept it on the fire and cover the vessel with a lid. Now as the temperature rises, the lid starts vibrating. You might have observed this happening while preparing a steamed food item.

The science behind it is, at the microscopic level, water has millions of molecules bonded together with the interatomic force of attraction, as the temperature rises, the bond between the molecules break and they start colliding with each other and at the surface of the vessel, which, in turn, creates pressure at the walls of the vessel.

Even if you take the case of a U-shaped jar, fill it with gas, and attach a piston to its top. Now, as you push the piston inwards, the gas molecules expand because of the collision between them.

In Bernoulli’s principle, we learned that the velocity difference between the upper and the lower stream of the fluid creates a pressure difference, and this principle is useful in generating airlift.

According to these three examples, we understand that pressure occurs in three things viz: liquid, gas, and fluids.


If we talk about stress, it is a force applied perpendicular to the area, so it is clearly related to the matter.

Let’s suppose that there is a block of mass ‘m’ placed horizontally. Now, if you apply a force, stress acts at a point of the plane. Since stress acts at a point on the plane of the block, that’s why we consider stress as the force acting per unit area of the plane.

Since stress has three parameters to define it as the vector quantity. These are the magnitude, direction, and point of application. We also called stress the ‘Second-order tensor’.

Task to Do

So, the difference between pressure and stress is easy-to-comprehend when we consider the real-life examples, as we discussed above. So, try to think of a few more real-life examples to understand the pressure stress difference.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Question 1: What Type of Quantity is Pressure? List the Different Types of Units of Pressure.

Answer: Pressure is a scalar quantity because we are not sure of the direction the pressure is applied to, on the surface; however, we can define its magnitude or value in different units. Five types of units of pressure are used commonly. These are:

  • mmHg - We use this unit to measure blood pressure.

  • Psi - Pound per square inch.

  • Pascal (Pa), KiloPascal (kPa), MegaPascal (mPa)

  • Atmospheric (atm)

  • Bar

Question 2: List the Types of Pressure.

Answer: Various types of pressure are as follows:

  • Absolute pressure

  • Atmospheric pressure

  • Differential pressure

  • Overpressure / Gauge pressure

Question 3: List the Types of Stress.

Answer: The list of the types of stress are:

  • Tensile stress

  • Normal stress

  • Shearing or Tangential stress

  • Longitudinal stress

  • Bulk stress or Volumetric stress

  • Compressive stress

The types of stress mentioned above affect the object (strain) in different ways when an internal resisting force acts on it.

Question 4: What is Meant by the Pressure Exerted by the Liquid?

Answer: The pressure exerted by the liquid is called the hydrostatic pressure The hydrostatic pressure is the pressure exerted by a fluid (gas/liquid) at any point in space within that fluid, assuming that the fluid is at rest.