Last updated on 10 July 2017

Rotation can occur in two possible directions. A clockwise (typically abbreviated as CW) motion is one that proceeds in the same direction as a clock's hands: from the top to the right, then down and then to the left, and back up to the top. The opposite sense of rotation or revolution is (in North American English) counterclockwise (CCW) or (in Commonwealth English) anticlockwise (ACW).

Clockwise arrow.svg
The clockwise direction


Before clocks were commonplace, the terms "sunwise" and "deasil", "deiseil" and even "deocil" from the Scottish Gaelic language and from the same root as the Latin "dexter" ("right") were used for clockwise. "Widdershins" or "withershins" (from Middle Low German "weddersinnes", "opposite course") was used for counterclockwise.

Counterclockwise arrow.svg
The counterclockwise or anticlockwise direction

The terms clockwise and counterclockwise can only be applied to a rotational motion once a side of the rotational plane is specified, from which the rotation is observed. For example, the daily rotation of the Earth is clockwise when viewed from above the South Pole, and counterclockwise when viewed from above the North Pole.

Clocks traditionally follow this sense of rotation because of the clock's predecessor: the sundial. Clocks with hands were first built in the Northern Hemisphere (see main article), and they were made to work like sundials. In order for a horizontal sundial to work (in the Northern Hemisphere), it must be placed looking northward. Then, when the Sun moves in the sky (east to south to west), the shadow cast on the opposite side of the sundial moves with the same sense of rotation (west to north to east). This is why hours were drawn in sundials in that manner, and why modern clocks have their numbers set in the same way. Note, however, that on a vertical sundial (such as those placed on the walls of buildings), the shadow moves in the opposite direction, and some clocks were constructed to mimic this. The best-known surviving example is the astronomical clock in the Münster Cathedral, whose hands move counterclockwise.

Occasionally, clocks whose hands revolve counterclockwise are nowadays sold as a novelty. Historically, some Jewish clocks were built that way, for example in some synagogue towers in Europe, to accord with right-to-left reading in the Hebrew language. In 2014 under Bolivian president Evo Morales, the clock outside the Legislative Assembly in Plaza Murillo, La Paz, was shifted to counterclockwise motion to promote indigenous values.[1]



Typical nuts, screws, bolts, bottle caps, and jar lids are tightened (moved away from the observer) clockwise and loosened (moved towards the observer) counterclockwise in accordance with the right-hand rule.

To apply the right-hand rule, place one's loosely clenched right hand above the object with the thumb pointing in the direction one wants the screw, nut, bolt, or cap ultimately to move, and the curl of the fingers, from the palm to the tips, will indicate in which way one needs to turn the screw, nut, bolt or cap to achieve the desired result. Almost all threaded objects obey this rule except for a few left-handed exceptions described below.

The reason for the clockwise standard for most screws and bolts is that supination of the arm, which is used by a right-handed person to tighten a screw clockwise, is generally stronger than pronation used to loosen.

Sometimes the opposite (left-handed, counterclockwise, reverse) sense of threading is used for a special reason. A thread might need to be left-handed to prevent operational stresses from loosening it. For example, some older cars and trucks had right-handed lug nuts on the right wheels and left-handed ones on the left wheels, so that, as the vehicle moved forward, the lug nuts tended to tighten rather than loosen. For bicycle pedals, the one on the left must be reverse-threaded to prevent it unscrewing during use. Similarly, the flyer whorl of a spinning wheel uses a left-hand thread to keep it from loosening. A turnbuckle has right-handed threads on one end and left-handed threads on the other. Some gas fittings are left-handed to prevent disastrous misconnections: oxygen fittings are right-handed, but acetylene, propane, and other flammable gases are unmistakably distinguished by left-handed fittings.


In trigonometry and mathematics in general, plane angles are conventionally measured counterclockwise, starting with 0° or 0 radians pointing directly to the right (or east), and 90° pointing straight up (or north). However, in navigation, compass headings increase clockwise around the compass face, starting with 0° at the top of the compass (the northerly direction), with 90° to the right (east).

A circle defined parametrically in a positive Cartesian plane by the equations x = cos t and y = sin t is traced counterclockwise as the angle t increases in value, from the right-most point at t = 0. An alternative formulation with sin and cos swapped gives a clockwise trace from the upper-most point.

Games and activities

In general, most card games, board games, parlor games and multiple team sports play in a clock-wise turn rotation in Western Countries and Latin America with a notable resistance to playing in the opposite direction (counter-clockwise). Traditionally (and still continued for the most part) turns pass counter-clockwise in many Asian countries. In Western countries when speaking and discussion activities take part in a circle, turns tend to naturally pass in a clockwise motion even though there is no obligation to do so. Curiously, unlike with games, there is usually no objection when the activity uncharacteristically begins in a counter-clockwise motion.

Notably, the game of baseball is played counter-clockwise.

In humans

Most left-handed people prefer to draw circles and circulate in buildings clockwise, while most right-handed people prefer to draw circles and circulate in buildings counterclockwise. This is believed to result from dominant brain hemispheres,[2] though some attribute it to muscle mechanics.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Sam Jones and Sara Shahriari (June 25, 2014). "Bolivia turns back the clock in bid to rediscover identity and 'southernness'". The Guardian. Retrieved June 26, 2014.
  2. ^ Theodore H. Blau, The torque test: A measurement of cerebral dominance. 1974, American Psychological Association.
  3. ^ Ack Demarest & Lorrie Demarest, 'DOES THE TORQUE TEST' MEASURE CEREBRAL DOMINANCE IN ADULTS?', 1980, Perceptual and Motor Skills: Volume 50, Issue , pp. 155-158

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