ask the electrician
Electrician Training Electrical Certification wiring recessed light fixtures Electrical Wiring Electrical Troubleshooting and Electrical Repairs wire outdoor light fixture Home Electrical Wiring Diagrams
wiring home generator and transfer switch wiring a 220 volt range cord outlet Wiring for GFCI Outlets Wiring Outlets and a Switched Outlet Wiring and Installing Ceiling Fans and Remote Controls wire dimmer switch wiring diagrams for switches wiring a dryer cord and 220 outlet circuit breaker panel
Electrical Wire and Cable

What is The Purpose of the Neutral Wire

The Purpose of the Neutral Wire in Electrical Systems: What is the purpose of the neutral wire and the difference between the ground wire and the white neutral wire.

Electrical Wiring Video

How to Wire a GFCI Outlet without a Ground Wire

NOTE: A List of All my Helpful Videos

Will Display at the End of This Video

So Keep Watching So I Can Help You Wire it Right!

Check out my YouTube Channel, and Subscribe!

The Neutral Wire in Electrical Systems
Electrical Question: What is the purpose of the neutral?

These electrical questions came from: John, in Lemon Grove California, and John in Sun City Center, Florida.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical questions.

The Purpose of the Neutral Wire

The following will provide an explanation for the purpose of the neutral wire and the the difference between the ground wire and the neutral wire.

More about Neutral Wires and Electrical Wiring

Basic House Wiring Circuits

House Wiring Circuits and Circuit Breakers

This article looks at common 120 volt and 240 volt house wiring circuits and the circuit breakers that are installed identifying the types and amperage sizes used in most homes.
Electrical Panel Circuit Listing

Circuit Wiring
Circuit Wiring

Electrical Circuit Wiring

This article looks at common 120 volt and 240 volt house wiring circuits and the circuit breakers that are installed identifying the types and amperage sizes used in most homes.

For more information about Electrical Wiring
Electrical Wiring
Electrical Wiring
Electrical Wiring
Home electrical wiring projects with pictures and wiring diagrams.

This link is helpful as a Homeowner
Do-It-Yourself Electrical

The following may also be helpful for you:

Electrical Wiring Video #2

Home Electrical Wiring Videos about this Topic and More

Check out my YouTube Channel, and Subscribe!

Learn more with my Home Electrical Video Course:

Basic Home Electrical Wiring by Example

Dave's Guide to Home Electrical Wiring:

» You Can Avoid Costly Mistakes! «

Here's How to Do It:
Wire It Right with the help of my Illustrated Wiring Book

Great for any Home Wiring Project.
  electrical wiring  

Complete Guide to Home Electrical Wiring

Perfect for Homeowners, Students,
Handyman, Handy Women, and Electricians
Wiring GFCI Outlets
Wiring Home Electric Circuits
120 Volt and 240 Volt Outlet Circuits
Wiring Light Switches
Wiring 3-Wire and 4-Wire Electric Range
Wiring 3-Wire and 4-Wire Dryer Cord and Dryer Outlet
How to Troubleshoot and Repair Electrical Wiring
Wiring Methods for Upgrading Electrical Wiring
NEC Codes for Home Electrical Wiring
....and much more.

Be Careful and Be Safe - Never Work on Energized Circuits!
Consult your Local Building Department about Permits and Inspections for all Electric Wiring Projects.

More articles about 120 Volt Circuit, Bonding Ground Wires, Electrical Code NEC, Electrical Wiring, National Electrical Code, Neutral Wire, Wiring Questions and Home Electrical Wiring:
« Previous Next »
Wiring a 3-Wire Dryer Outlet Video How Do I Correct Ground Wire Electrical Code Violations?

FAQs Frequently Asked Questions and Comments

10 Responses to “What is The Purpose of the Neutral Wire”
  1. yo says:

    if i put an open switch on the hot/live wire right before, say, a radio, no power goes to the radio. however, if i put an open switch on the neutral wire right after the radio, the radio will be full of power. so what is the purpose of a return, neutral wire?

    could i just then have 1 hot/live wire and a ground wire coming out of it?

    also, if AC goes back and forth, does the neutral become hot/live and the hot/live become neutral on the second half of the cycle?

  2. Thomas says:

    Thank you both for your article, question and website. I have been learning about electricity for at least 30 years and the more I see, the more I know there is yet to figure out. It has been my understanding that the grounded or “neutral” conductor provides a path back to the source, that is the transformer and not to the earth/ground. This is how the circuit is ultimately completed or closed. Please correct me if I am wrong or let me know if this has been helpful.

  3. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Thomas, Great Thoughts!
    Here’s something that may help you: If you take a look at a typical electrical overhead power line that provides 240 volt service to a home you will notice that there are only two wires on the primary or secondary side of the power pole which either connects directly to the home service or to a step down transformer. So where is the neutral wire?
    The service drop from the home to the power pole has three wires, however one is uninsulated because it is the ground conductor. The electrical service to the home from the utility company does not have a neutral wire, however it does have a ground conductor. The neutral is created at the home main electrical panel where it is bonded to the earth ground.
    NOTE: In some areas an electric utility transformer may supply power to more than one home. In this case three wires will lead out from the transformer to each home electrical service connection.
    I will develop more resources that cover this topic further because there is a great deal of confusion about Alternating Current, especially when discussing the topics of a 120 volt AC circuit, and alternating current which is produced by a multi-phase generator.
    I hope this helps,

  4. Wayne Gammon says:

    I need more room in my switch box. I currently have too many electric wire nuts on the wires in the box to allow full insertion of my switches. Can I crimp my hots and neutrals together then insulate with tape?

  5. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Wayne,
    Crimping electrical circuit wires is typically acceptable for the ground wires, however it is not a good practice for current carrying conductors. However you may want to choose a different type of wire splice connector for your application. Be aware that if the electrical box is over the allowed capacity of permissible electrical wires then it may be necessary to replace the box with a larger one which is deeper. If this is a surface mounted metal box then an extension ring may be stacked onto the face of the existing box, however the application would need to be considered.
    Thanks for sharing your question with us Wayne,

  6. John Reneer says:

    I’m trying to understand the source and importance of the neutral wire. Assuming a storm knocks out the pole transformer which supplies electrical current to my house, if I use a generator to power my breaker panel, how does the neutral wire work?

  7. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi John,
    It may help you to understand the relationship between the neutral and the ground system of the home. The function of the neutral wire can only work when the ground system is provided at the main panel. The only place the neutral wire is connected to the ground system is at the main power source, which is the main service panel where the ground system is bonded to the earth. Therefore the generator must also be grounded to the main electrical panel ground system. The connection of a generator to a home using a transfer switch must be performed properly to ensure the integrity of the complete electrical system.
    Thank you for sharing your electrical question with us,

  8. John Reneer says:

    I cannot possibly thank you enough. You explained it to where even I can understand it.

  9. Taro says:

    I am trying to connect a new cooktop. The cooktop has three wires, two are hot and one ground. I am connecting to a circuit cable with three conductors, with one ground wire. I know to connect the hot wires to the live conductors and the ground to the ground. I am not certain what to do with the neutral. The installation instructions say to connect the neutral to the ground wires. Is that correct?

  10. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Taro,
    When the neutral wire of the circuit is not used it is capped off with a wire connector.