In electromagnetism, the absolute permittivity, often simply called permittivity and denoted by the Greek letter ε (epsilon), is a measure of the electric polarizability of a dielectric. A material with high permittivity polarizes more in response to an applied electric field than a material with low permittivity, thereby storing more energy in the material. In electrostatics, the permittivity plays an important role in determining the capacitance of a capacitor.

In the simplest case, the electric displacement field D resulting from an applied electric field E is

More generally, the permittivity is a thermodynamic function of state [1]. It can depend on the frequency, magnitude, and direction of the applied field. The SI unit for permittivity is farad per meter (F/m).

The permittivity is often represented by the relative permittivity εr which is the ratio of the absolute permittivity ε and the vacuum permittivity ε0


This dimensionless quantity is also often and ambiguously referred to as the permittivity. Another common term encountered for both absolute and relative permittivity is the dielectric constant which has been deprecated in physics and engineering[2] as well as in chemistry.[3]

By definition, a perfect vacuum has a relative permittivity of exactly 1 whereas at STP, air has a relative permittivity of κair = 1.0006.

Relative permittivity is directly related to electric susceptibility (χ) by

otherwise written as

A dielectric permittivity spectrum over a wide range of frequenci

Moreover, the fact that the polarization can only depend on the electric field at previous times (i.e. effectively χt) = 0 for Δt < 0), a consequence of causality, imposes Kramers–Kronig constraints on the susceptibility χ(0).

As opposed to the response of a vacuum, the response of normal materials to external fields generally depends on the frequency of the field. This frequency dependence reflects the fact that a material's polarization does not change instantaneously when an electric field is applied. The response must always be causal (arising after the applied field), which can be represented by a phase difference. For this reason, permittivity is often treated as a complex function of the (angular) frequency ω of the applied field:

(since complex numbers allow specification of magnitude and phase). The definition of permittivity therefore becomes

and E0 are the amplitudes of the displacement and electric fields, respectively,
  • i is the imaginary unit, i2 = −1.
  • The response of a medium to static electric fields is described by the low-frequency limit of permittivity, also called the static permittivity εs (also εDC):