For other uses, see Ogive (disambiguation).
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A secant ogive of sharpness
The ogive shape of the Space Shuttle External Tank

An ogive (/ˈv/ OH-jyv) is the roundly tapered end of a two-dimensional or three-dimensional object. The term is used in engineering, architecture, woodworking and geology.


Villard de Honnecourt, a 13th-century itinerant master-builder from the Picardy in the north of France, was the first writer to use the word ogive. The OED considers the French term's origin obscure; it might come from the Late Latin obviata, the feminine perfect passive participle of obviare, meaning the one who has met or encountered the other.[1]

Applied physical science and engineering

In ballistics or aerodynamics, an ogive is a pointed, curved surface mainly used to form the approximately streamlined nose of a bullet or other projectile.

The traditional or secant ogive is a surface of revolution of the same curve that forms a Gothic arch; that is, a circular arc, of greater radius than the diameter of the cylindrical section ("shank"), is drawn from the edge of the shank until it intercepts the axis.

If this arc is drawn so that it meets the shank at zero angle (that is, the distance of the centre of the arc from the axis, plus the radius of the shank, equals the radius of the arc), then it is called a tangent or spitzer ogive. This is a very common ogive for high velocity (supersonic) rifle bullets.

The sharpness of this ogive is expressed by the ratio of its radius to the diameter of the cylinder; a value of one half being a hemispherical dome, and larger values being progressively more pointed. Values of 4 to 10 are commonly used in rifles, with 6 being the most common.

Another common ogive for bullets is the elliptical ogive. This is a curve very similar to the spitzer ogive, except that the circular arc is replaced by an ellipse defined in such a way that it meets the axis at exactly 90°. This gives a somewhat rounded nose regardless of the sharpness ratio. An elliptical ogive is normally described in terms of the ratio of the length of the ogive to the diameter of the shank. A ratio of one half would be, once again, a hemisphere. Values close to 1 are common in practice. Elliptical ogives are mainly used in pistol bullets.

Missiles and aircraft generally have much more complex ogives, such as the von Kármán ogive.


Ogival curves in the ribs of Gothic vaulting
Main article: Gothic architecture
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gothic arches.

One of the defining characteristics of Gothic architecture is the pointed or ogival arch. Arches of this type were used in the Near East in pre-Islamic[2] as well as Islamic architecture before they were employed structurally in medieval architecture, and are thought to have been the inspiration for their use in France, as at Autun Cathedral, which is otherwise stylistically Romanesque.[3]

In Gothic architecture, ogives are the intersecting transverse ribs of arches that establish the surface of a Gothic vault. An ogive or ogival arch is a pointed, "Gothic" arch, drawn with compasses as outlined above, or with arcs of an ellipse as described. A very narrow, steeply pointed ogive arch is sometimes called a "lancet arch". The most common form is an equilateral arch, where the radius is the same as the width. In the later Flamboyant Gothic style, an "ogee arch", an arch with a pointed head, like S-shaped curves, became prevalent.


Ogive on a 9×19mm Parabellum cartridge

In woodworking, an ogive is a type of curve a piece of wood can be shaped in.


In statistics, an ogive is a free-hand graph showing the curve of a cumulative distribution function. The points plotted are the upper class limit and the corresponding cumulative frequency.[4] (which, for the normal distribution, resembles one side of an Arabesque or ogival arch). It can also be used to refer to the empirical cumulative distribution function.


Main article: Ogive (glacier)

In glaciology, ogives are three dimensional wave-bulges characteristic of glaciers that have experienced extreme underlying topographical change, observed as an ice fall. Forbes bands are light and dark bands that appear down glacier ogives, resulting from different ice densities due to the seasons.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ogive.


  1. "Le Trésor de la Langue Française online". 2015-06-03.
  2. Warren, John (1991). "Creswell's Use of the Theory of Dating by the Acuteness of the Pointed Arches in Early Muslim Architecture". Muqarnas. 8. pp. 59–65.
  3. Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method.
  4. Everitt, B.S. (2002). The Cambridge Dictionary of Statistics (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81099-X.
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