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Transverse Wave: Definition, Terminology, Characteristics, Examples

Transverse Wave: Definition, Terminology, Characteristics, Examples

You have definitely played a game in your childhood in which one end of a rope is tightened on the wall and moves the other end up and down. Energy in the form of wave start propagating. As the time passes you have seen that every particle on the rope is moving up and down perpendicular to the length of rope but it seems like that sine wave is traveling away from you.This type of wave is called transverse wave.


Table of content

  • What is transverse wave?
  • Terminology of transverse waves
  • Speed of wave on string
  • Practice Problems
  • FAQs

What is transverse wave?

A transverse wave is a wave whose oscillations are perpendicular to the direction of the wave motion. 

Examples of transverse waves:

  • Wave on a string- Take a long string and tie one end of the string to a poll as shown in Figure(a).

If it is given a quick jerk, a bump (like pulse) is produced in the string as shown in Figure(b). This disturbance is sudden and it lasts for a short duration, hence it is known as a wave pulse.

If jerks are given continuously then the waves produced are transverse waves as shown in Fig (c). Same waves are produced by a plucked string in a guitar.

  • Ripples on the surface of the water- Suppose we drop a stone in still water, we can see a disturbance produced at the place where the stone strikes the water surface as shown in figure. We find that this disturbance spreads out in the form of concentric circles of ever increasing radii (ripples). This is due to some of the kinetic energy of the stone being transmitted to the water molecules on the surface. Actually the particles of the water themselves do not move, this can be observed by keeping a light particle on the water surface.The particle will move up and down when the disturbance passes on the water surface.Hence we can say that the water molecules only undergo transverse motion about their mean positions.

  • Light or electromagnetic wave is also an example of a transverse wave, in which oscillations of electric and magnetic fields are perpendicular to the direction of propagation of the wave.

  • The secondary waves of an earthquake - secondary waves, also called S-waves and shear waves, are the second waves to hit the seismographs. These waves are transverse waves, which means that the motion is perpendicular to the direction of wave propagation.

Terminology of transverse waves

  1. Crest and trough: As the oscillations in transverse waves are perpendicular to wave progression so it is composed of Crests and troughs. The top point of the wave is Crest and the bottom point of the wave is trough. Refer to the diagram above for the visual representation of these terms.
  2. Amplitude – The maximum displacement of a particle from its equilibrium position is termed as amplitude of a transverse wave. Si units depend on the type of wave. If its string wave it is meter. If it is an E.M wave it is V/m or Tesla.
  3. Wavelength – The distance from either one Crest to the next Crest, or one trough to the next trough is called the wavelength or distance traveled by wave in one time period is the wavelength of the transverse wave. Si unit is meter.
  4. Time Period – Time in which two successive Crests pass through a fixed point is called the time period of transverse waves. Si unit is Second.
  5. Frequency – The number of times Crest (or trough) that passes through a given point in a second is called frequency of transverse wave. Si unit is Hz.

  1. Speed - Speed of a transverse wave is distance traveled by pulse in unit time.

The speed of a transverse wave can be calculated as 

Speed of wave on string

Instruments such as piano and guitars use strings to produce music. Wave speed on this kind of string is proportional to the square root of the tension in the string and inversely proportional to the square root of the linear density of the string. Mathematically it is written as follows:

Where, tension in string

And linear mass density

Practice Problems

Q. Which of the following transverse waves has a longer wavelength?

A.Wave length of (a), (b), (c), are 2 unit, 2 unit and 4 unit respectively, hence option (c) is correct. 

Q. A wire has a mass of . If the wire is under a tension of , what will be the speed of transverse waves on the wire ?

A. Mass per unit length, 

Tension in wire,

Speed of wave on the wire is

Q. Calculate the velocity of the transverse waves. The linear mass density of the pulse is . After this, calculate the time taken by the traveling pulse to cover a distance of on the string.

A. Tension in the string is


Mass per unit length of string is

Therefore, velocity of the wave pulse is

The time taken by the pulse to travel the distance of is

Q.There are three wave shown in figure,

(a) the frequency in ascending order

(b) the wavelength in ascending order



Q. Can transverse waves travel through vacuum?

A. Yes, a light wave is a transverse wave and it can travel through a vacuum.

Q. Can transverse waves be Polarized?

A. Yes, transverse waves show polarization while longitudinal waves doesn't.

Q. Are radio waves transverse or longitudinal waves?

A.Radio waves are electromagnetic waves and all electromagnetic waves are transverse in nature.

Q. Speed of a transverse wave depends on?

A. It depends on the medium.

Related link

Wave,Type of Waves,Terms related to Waves,Practice Problems, FAQs Longitudinal waves-Practice Problems,FAQs
Progressive wave : Displacement Relation Progressive wave : Amplitude, phase, wave length, period, angular frequency and frequency, ultrasound
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