Difference Between Transverse and Longitudinal Waves

Main Difference – Transverse vs. Longitudinal Waves

Transverse and longitudinal are two different types of waves. The main difference between transverse and longitudinal waves is that in transverse waves, oscillations occur perpendicular to the direction of propagation of the wave, whereas in longitudinal waves, oscillations occur parallel to the direction of propagation of the wave.

What are Transverse Waves

In transverse waves, the oscillations take place perpendicular (normal) to the direction of propagation of the wave. A simple demonstration can be performed by wiggling a rope up and down. The wave itself will propagate along the rope whereas the individual particles in the wave oscillate perpendicularly to the rope’s length.

The wave in the above example is a mechanical wave—the wave passes through a medium (the rope) whose particles oscillate to conduct the wave. In addition, transverse waves include electromagnetic waves as well (radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma rays are all electromagnetic waves). Electromagnetic waves do not require a medium to propagate in, i.e. they can travel through a vacuum. We get energy from the Sun through electromagnetic waves emitted by the Sun. In electromagnetic waves, there is no particle that physically oscillates to propagate the wave through space, but rather, it is an electric field and an accompanying magnetic field that oscillate.

Oscillations of a transverse wave could be set up in any direction perpendicular to the direction of propagation. When all the vibrations are occurring along one direction, the wave is said to be polarised (polarized).

What are Longitudinal Waves

In longitudinal waves, oscillations occur parallel to the direction of propagation of the wave. The most common example for these types of waves is sound waves, which consist of oscillating air molecules. The parallel motion sets up regions with compressions where the oscillating particles are closer together, and regions with rarefactions where the oscillating particles are further apart.

Since longitudinal waves can only oscillate along one direction, they cannot be polarised. The diagram below illustrates the difference between transverse and longitudinal waves:

Difference Between Transverse and Longitudinal Waves

a) On top: A longitudinal wave and b) at the bottom: a transverse wave.

Difference Between Transverse and Longitudinal Waves

Direction of Oscillations

In transverse waves, oscillations take place perpendicular to the direction of propagation of the wave.

In longitudinal waves, oscillations take place parallel to the direction of propagation.


Transverse waves can be polarised.

Longitudinal waves cannot be polarised.

Image Courtesy:

“ Direction of oscillation and propagation of a longitudinal wave (a) and a transverse wave (labels in German)” by Debianux (Own work) [], via  (modified)

About the Author: Nipun

Related pages

what is an example of an understatementdifference between manic and hypomanic episodeexamples of mood and atmosphere in literatureumayyad and abbasid caliphateshow to determine the meter of a poemcatholic dogma vs doctrineblastulation definition biologymorpheme definition psychologyincome elastic definitionchemical name of formalinepilogue and prologuecysteine cystinedefinition of external rhymeemboli vs thrombidifference between polar nonpolar moleculessn1 vs sn2 chartunicellular and multicellularherbivore and omnivoreconceit in poetry definitionexample of dicot leaveswhat are the function of centriolesdifference between mitochondria and chloroplast structuredifference between melanin and melatoningerman shepherd belgiandefine tradeoff in economicsdefinition of snugglingsarcasm ironyfunctions of flagella and ciliacompare and contrast neoclassicism and romanticisminternal rhythm definitiondefine haemostasissynapsis occurs duringwhat does hubristic meanthe chemical name for vitamin cdefine polarisation of lightsingle bond double bond triple bondwhat is the difference between an archbishop and a bishoppeasants and serfsdifferences between autotrophs and heterotrophsmastiff and bullmastiffevoke or invoketypes of dramatic monologueindefinite numeral adjectivewhat is a granumoropneadyskinesia and dystoniacompare and contrast polar and nonpolar compoundsmonocot and dicot leaves examplesalligator vs crocodile size differencehomophone for polecharacteristics of comedy of manners genrewhat is ribose in biologylevis white label jeanshiggs boson string theoryexamples pure substancebipolar ii vs borderline personality disorderwhat is celpipwhat is the difference between adverb and adjectivewhat is the fundamental difference between covalent and ionic bondingwhat is biotic and abiotic meanis rice a cerealpossessive adjective possessive pronounxanthan and guar gumcoenzymes and cofactors differencechloroplasts and chlorophylldefine epigram in literaturewhat is the difference between a cookie and a biscuitdefinition of a sonnet poemavascular plantsinduction motor vs synchronous motorsatirical ironymelodrama definition literatureexamples of infinitive phrasemaki sushi differencewhat is anticodonwhat types of organisms carry out chemosynthesisdefine enthalpy and entropyphoneme morphemedistinguish between pollination and fertilizationtensile and compressive strength