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Particle size (grain size)

Particle size, also called grain size, refers to the diameter of individual grains of sediment, or the lithified particles in clastic rocks. The term may also be applied to other granular materials. This is different from the crystallite size, which is the size of a single crystal inside the particles or grains. A single grain can be composed of several crystals. Granular material can range from very small colloidal particles, through clay, silt, sand, and gravel, to boulders.

Size ranges define limits of classes that are given names in the Wentworth scale (or Udden-Wentworth) used in the United States. The Krumbein phi (φ) scale, a modification of the Wentworth scale created by W. C. Krumbein, (Krumbein & Sloss 1963) is a logarithmic scale computed by the equation:



φ is the Krumbein phi scale, and
D is the diameter of the particle
Do is a reference diameter, equal to 1 mm (to make the equation dimensionally consistent.)

This equation can be rearranged to find diameter using φ:

D=Do \times 2^{-\phi}\,
φ scale Size range
Size range
(approx. inches)
Aggregate name
(Wentworth Class)
Other names
< −8 > 256 mm > 10.1 in Boulder
−6 to −8 64–256 mm 2.5–10.1 in Cobble
−5 to −6 32–64 mm 1.26–2.5 in Very coarse gravel Pebble
−4 to −5 16–32 mm 0.63–1.26 in Coarse gravel Pebble
−3 to −4 8–16 mm 0.31–0.63 in Medium gravel Pebble
−2 to −3 4–8 mm 0.157–0.31 in Fine gravel Pebble
−1 to −2 2–4 mm 0.079–0.157 in Very fine gravel Granule
0 to −1 1–2 mm 0.039–0.079 in Very coarse sand
1 to 0 ½–1 mm 0.020–0.039 in Coarse sand
2 to 1 ¼–½ mm 0.010–0.020 in Medium sand
3 to 2 125–250 µm 0.0049–0.010 in Fine sand
4 to 3 62.5–125 µm 0.0025–0.0049 in Very fine sand
8 to 4 3.90625–62.5 µm 0.00015–0.0025 in Silt Mud
> 8 < 3.90625 µm < 0.00015 in Clay Mud
>10 < 1 µm < 0.000039 in Colloid Mud

In some schemes "gravel" is anything larger than sand (>2.0 mm), and includes "granule", "pebble", "cobble", and "boulder" in the above table. In this scheme, "pebble" covers the size range 4 to 64 mm (−2 to −6 φ).

See also

  • The Unified Soil Classification System (USCS)
  • Soil texture


  • W C Krumbein & L L Sloss, Stratigraphy and Sedimentation, 2nd edition (Freeman, San Francisco, 1963).
  • J A Udden, Mechanical composition of clastic sediments, Bull. Geol. Soc. Am. 25, 655-744 (1914).
  • C K Wentworth, A scale of grade and class terms for clastic sediments, J. Geology V. 30, 377-392 (1922).
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Particle_size_(grain_size)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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