The term clockwise (CW) describes the direction in which the hands of a clock move.

Clockwise definition

Clockwise is defined as the direction that the hands of a clock move.

Which way is clockwise

When looking at a clock from the front or the top, we can think of a clockwise direction as a circular direction of movement that proceeds to the right, as depicted in the figure below.

Clockwise vs counterclockwise

Counterclockwise is the circular direction of movement opposite of clockwise. Looking at a clock from the front or the top, a counterclockwise direction proceeds to the left.

Both the terms clockwise and counterclockwise are defined based on looking at the clock from a specified direction. For example, looking straight at a clock on a wall is one possible direction. Another possible direction is a person standing on the other side of the wall. If there were someone else on the other side of the wall who could see the same rotation that we were looking at, from their perspective, a clockwise rotation for us would be counterclockwise for them.

Another example is the rotation of the Earth. The rotation of the Earth is clockwise if viewed from above the South Pole, but counterclockwise if viewed from above the North Pole, where "above" means farther away from the center of the Earth.

How is clockwise used

Although the term clockwise originated with the use of clocks, it is used in many other real-life applications.

Tightening objects

For example, many objects such as jar lids, screws, bolts, bottle caps, nuts, and more, need to be turned a specific direction to be tightened or loosened. They are usually designed to be tightened when turned in a clockwise direction with respect to the person looking at the object, and loosened when turned counterclockwise. This is because more people are right-handed than left-handed, and it is generally easier for a right-handed person to tighten a screw clockwise than counterclockwise. There are special cases however, where clockwise rotation loosens, and counterclockwise rotation tightens.


In coordinate planes, angles are usually measured counterclockwise, starting from 0°, which is on the right-hand end of the coordinate plane. You can think of the direction as east.

Board games

In certain games where players take turns, such as board games, the turn order often proceeds in a clockwise direction. This can depend on area however, and some regions and countries tend to have turns or gameplay proceed in the counterclockwise direction. There is no real rule or reason that one particular direction should be used over the other, and it is mostly a matter of custom.