High School Physics


Newton’s First Law of Motion doesn’t hold good for every frame of reference

Last updated on May 2nd, 2021 at 02:30 pm

The frame of reference and Newton’s first law of motion – This law says that if the sum of all the forces acting on a particle is zero then a static particle continues to remain at rest and a moving one continues moving with a constant velocity along a straight line.

That means if no net force acting then the acceleration of that particle is zero.

Now the question is: Is this law applicable everywhere, i.e. in any frame of reference?

Or does it work for a specific type of frame of reference? ( Inertial OR NonInertial Frame of Reference ?)

Frame of reference – an example

Let us take an example.

Have you observed hand grips inside a bus or train compartment hanging from the overhead rods?

Have you noticed their movement when the velocity of the vehicle is changing abruptly (for clarity notice those which are not gripped by passengers)?

inertial & non-inertial frame of reference-newton law

Its weight is acting vertically downwards and the tension in its strap is pulling it upwards with an equal and opposite force.

So if we go by the first law of motion then the handgrip should be in stable condition when there is no external force visible, within the framework of the compartment.

But we often see handgrips swaying when the train moves. Why?

We understand that Newton’s first law is to be checked successfully after we consider and find a few things like

– taking a frame of reference

– and then find out the acting forces on a body or a system present within that framework

– and then check if there is any net force present causing an acceleration of the system with respect to that framework.

See also  pulley systems: block and tackle

But from the behavior of the swaying handgrips in a vehicle having non-uniform velocity makes us think that there are even some frameworks where this first law of motion is not valid.

Valid frame of reference for the first law to be satisfied

We can take the earth as a valid framework as it’s moving uniformly.

With respect to it(taking it static) we consider a tree or house on it as a static object.

We call this frame of the earth an Inertial framework.

Similarly, a uniformly moving train is again a valid framework with respect to the inertial framework of earth.

So we can say that all frames moving uniformly with respect to an Inertial frame are inertial themselves.

Newton’s first law nicely fits into these frames.

So to conclude, an inertial frame of reference is a framework in which Newton’s first law of motion is valid. example: a uniformly moving vehicle or something which is not moving at all (with respect to the earth)

A frame in which this law doesn’t hold good is called a Non-inertial frame of reference. example: a train moving with acceleration.


Newton’s First Law of motion holds good for the Inertial Frame of Reference.

Also Read: Definition & explanation of inertial & non-inertial frame of references

For a noninertial frame of reference, one concept comes up – which is called pseudo force. You can read about this interesting topic here.

Free fall, Acceleration due to gravity and KE: How these are linked? Read here

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