Does electricity flow from positive (+) to negative (-) or from negative to positive?

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From the standpoint of Physics, it’s negative to positive. The particle responsible for electricity, the electron, has a negative charge. In, for example, a battery, the negative terminal has an excess of electrons and the positive terminal has a deficit. When the two terminals are connected, the electrons begin flowing from the negative to the positive (then back to the negative, internally in the battery).

From the standpoint of electronics, however, it doesn’t matter. You can imagine the electricity flowing from negative to positive or from positive to negative, and (in every case that matters to electrical engineers) you’ll get the same results every time. This is why some applications to electronics were discovered even before the charge of the electron was known, and why many electronics textbooks will talk about electricity flowing from positive to negative. Also, in electronics diagrams, things like diodes and transistors are drawn as though electricity flows from positive to negative.

When discussing positive to negative flow, electrical engineers will sometimes discuss positively charged particles flowing. In this case, they don’t mean protons or positrons: they’re talking about the flow of “space lacking electrons” or “electron holes” – gaps in space where there are no electrons even though there could be. These electron-hole “particles” are not actual particles; they’re simply a tool used to help imagine positive-to-negative flow.

As more of a physicist, I tend to think in terms of the negative-to-positive flow of electrons. However, you can just as easily imagine everything in terms of positive-to-negative electron-holes, if that makes you more comfortable.


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12 Comments

  1. kllbx says:

    It’s negative to positive. Most people write positive to negative because that’s the way Ampere had said it was– so Britishers and people of the countries they once had power on still write + to – , though technically it’s wrong

  2. Suman says:

    So it doesnt matter if is positive to negative or negative to positive? Please tell

  3. Heather says:

    This was very interesting. I am trying to figure out why meditation is helpful. I believe even “emotional energy” might have similar behavior to literal energy. I think Albert Einstein talked about being able reach a semi conscious state between awake and asleep where he was able to find and process information. So perhaps when people meditate they are beginning to acces this space, where their own negative energy flows into another “area” and they take back a more positive energy.

  4. Syed Mushaheed says:

    Electrons by moving, create electricity at a sub atomic level i.e Kinetic energy at sub atomic level. That’s electricity or current which flows from +ve to -ve. Those Holes can’t leave their position. it does but when forced and leads to a blast. holes have to move with ions or matter or mass.. as in electrolytic cell. but in wires.. electricity moves from +ve to -ve which is Kinetic electricity released by electrons when changing position rapidly.

  5. mark says:

    I need to know how to build a 555 timer. for a small project i’m
    working on. I could by one, but I think i’ll have a better understanding if I buld it myself.
    I would be very grateful for any help.
    I hope to hear from someone soon.

  6. Blank says:

    Actually, it was Benjamin Franklin. Not Ampere

  7. Aman kumar says:

    It is really excellent .It helped me in clearance of my confusion .

  8. Steve says:

    My understanding was that before Benjamin Franklin coined the term “electron”, everyone simply held that the electricity flows from positive to negative (like kllbx said). I thought this convention was held because if we were to switch it, chaos would ensue on past schematics.

    • Jeff says:

      It wasn’t Benjamin Franklin..

      The New Latin adjective electricus, originally meaning ‘of amber’, was first used to refer to amber’s attractive properties by William Gilbert in his 1600 text De Magnete. The term came from the classical Latin electrum, amber, from the Greek ἤλεκτρον (elektron), amber.[1] The origin of the Greek word is unknown, but there is speculation that it might have come from a Phoenician word elēkrŏn, meaning ‘shining light’. The letter Q was used for electric charge instead of the letter E because the letter was already used to represent the electron

      “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology_of_electricity”

  9. Leano says:

    In aerobic cellular respiration, the primary source of our energy production, electrons and hydrogens are removed from glucose. These are used to create a cellular battery by separating the hydrogens (positive charges) from the electrons (negative charges) across a membrane. The flow of hydrogens through a molecular machine called ATP synthase provides the energy for that machine to transfer inorganic phosphate to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) the source of energy used by most cell reactions and allows my fingers to type this message. The electrons are accepted by oxygen which also accepts the hydrogens we actually call oxygen the final electron acceptor in aerobic respiration but it accepts hydrogens as well and becomes water. My point is that in living cells a current can be a positive charge moving down a gradient driving a molecular machine. Pretty amazing.

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