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Two-dimensional 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).


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.[1]

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.

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 Clock), and they were made to work like horizontal sundials. In order for such a sundial to work north of the equator during spring and summer, and north of the Tropic of Cancer the whole year, the noon-mark of the dial must be placed northward of the pole casting the shadow. Then, when the Sun moves in the sky (from east to south to west), the shadow, which is cast on the sundial in the opposite direction, moves with the same sense of rotation (from west to north to east). This is why hours must be drawn in horizontal sundials in that manner, and why modern clocks have their numbers set in the same way, and their hands moving accordingly. For a vertical sundial (such as those placed on the walls of buildings, the dial being below the post), the movement of the sun is from right to top to left, and, accordingly, the shadow moves from left to down to right, i.e., counterclockwise. This effect is caused by the plane of the dial having been rotated through the plane of the motion of the sun and thus the shadow is observed from the other side of the dial's plane and is observed as moving in the opposite direction. 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.


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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

See also

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