Humanities › Geography What's the Difference Between Relative Location and Absolute Location? Share Flipboard Email Print Bernd Biege 2014 Geography Maps Basics Physical Geography Political Geography Population Country Information Key Figures & Milestones Urban Geography By Matt Rosenberg Geography Expert M.A., Geography, California State University - Northridge B.A., Geography, University of California - Davis Matt Rosenberg is an award-winning geographer and the author of "The Handy Geography Answer Book" and "The Geography Bee Complete Preparation Handbook." our editorial process Matt Rosenberg Updated September 16, 2019 Both relative location and absolute location are geographic terms used to describe the location of a place on the Earth's surface. They are each unique in their ability to pinpoint a location on Earth. Relative Location Relative location refers to locating a place relative to other landmarks. For example, you could give the relative location of St. Louis, Missouri as being in eastern Missouri, along the Mississippi River, southwest of Springfield, Illinois. As one drives along most major highways, there are mileage signs indicating the distance to the next town or city. This information expresses your current location relative to the upcoming place. So, if a highway sign states that St. Louis is 96 miles away from Springfield, you know your relative location in relation to St. Louis. Relative location is also a term that is used to indicate a place's location within a larger context. For example, one could state that Missouri is located in the Midwest of the United States and is bordered by Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. That is the relative location of Missouri based on its location within the United States. Alternatively, you could state that Missouri is south of Iowa and north of Arkansas. This is yet another example of relative location. Absolute Location On the other hand, absolute location references a place on the Earth's surface based on specific geographic coordinates, such as latitude and longitude. Applied to the previous example of St. Louis, the absolute location of St. Louis is 38°43' North 90°14' West. One can also give an address as an absolute location. For example, the absolute location of St. Louis City Hall is 1200 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri 63103. By providing the full address, you can pinpoint the location of St. Louis City Hall on a map. While you can give the geographic coordinates of a city or a building, it is difficult to provide the absolute location of an area such as a state or country because such places can't be pinpointed. With some difficulty, you could provide the absolute locations of the boundaries of the state or country but most of the time it's easier just to display a map or describe the relative location of a place like a state or country.