An electrical cable usually contains three copper wires. Each of the wires in a cable performs a specific function. Let’s have a look at the definitions and functions of live, neutral, and earth wires. After reading the article, you will easily understand their differences.
What is live wire?
The live is the wire that has a high potential. It means it carries the high voltage and delivers it to the appliance. It is also called hot wire or phase wire. For a complete circuit, the live conductor requires a neutral conductor to carry the current back to the power source.
The live wire is the most dangerous one since it has a high voltage, it should never touch the earth wire (unless the insulation is between them) because this would make a complete circuit from your mains supply to the ground (earth). A shock or fire would be highly likely.
Even if a circuit is switched off (i.e. the switch is open), the live wire can still be dangerous. If you touch it, you may complete a circuit between the live wire and the earth (because you’ll be standing on the floor), so you get a shock.
What is neutral wire?
Neutral is the wire that has zero potential. Neutral wire provides a return path for current back to the power source and completes the circuit.
A neutral represents a reference point within an electrical distribution system. Conductors connected to this reference point (Neutral) should, normally, be non-current carrying conductors, sized to handle momentary faults (short circuits) occurring in electrical equipment.
What is earth wire?
The earth wire is a safety wire that is needed for earth appliances with a metal case. This makes it safer to touch the appliance if it develops a fault.
An earth wire is essential for any appliance with a metal case. Without an earth wire, electricity could begin to flow through the metal casing if a fault developed. The earth wire provides an alternative path for the current.
Comparison of phase, neutral, and earth wires
The three pins in an electrical plug are connected to the three wires inside a cable.