The hertz is defined as one cycle per second. The International Committee for Weights and Measures defined the second as "the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom" and then adds: "It follows that the hyperfine splitting in the ground state of the caesium 133 atom is exactly 9 192 631 770 hertz, ν(hfs Cs) = 9 192 631 770 Hz." The dimension of the unit hertz is 1/time (1/T). Expressed in base SI units it is 1/second (1/s).
In English, "hertz" is also used as the plural form. As an SI unit, Hz can be prefixed; commonly used multiples are kHz (kilohertz, 103 Hz), MHz (megahertz, 106 Hz), GHz (gigahertz, 109 Hz) and THz (terahertz, 1012 Hz). One hertz simply means "one cycle per second" (typically that which is being counted is a complete cycle); 100 Hz means "one hundred cycles per second", and so on. The unit may be applied to any periodic event—for example, a clock might be said to tick at 1 Hz, or a human heart might be said to beat at 1.2 Hz. The occurrence rate of aperiodic or stochastic events is expressed in reciprocal second or inverse second (1/s or s−1) in general or, in the specific case of radioactive decay, in becquerels. Whereas 1 Hz is 1 cycle per second, 1 Bq is 1 aperiodic radionuclide event per second.
Even though angular velocity, angular frequency and the unit hertz all have the dimension 1/s, angular velocity and angular frequency are not expressed in hertz, but rather in an appropriate angular unit such as radians per second. Thus a disc rotating at 60 revolutions per minute (rpm) is said to be rotating at either 2π rad/s or 1 Hz, where the former measures the angular velocity and the latter reflects the number of complete revolutions per second. The conversion between a frequency f measured in hertz and an angular velocity ω measured in radians per second is
- and .
This SI unit is named after Heinrich Hertz. As with every International System of Units (SI) unit named for a person, the first letter of its symbol is upper case (Hz). However, when an SI unit is spelled out in English, it is treated as a common noun and should always begin with a lower case letter (hertz)—except in a situation where any word in that position would be capitalized, such as at the beginning of a sentence or in material using title case.