We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is a Potential Difference?

By Joe Williams
Updated May 21, 2024
Our promise to you
All The Science is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At All The Science, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A potential difference is the energy per unit charge in an electrical circuit. Potential difference must be measured between two points because it is generally impractical to measure the electrical potential of a single point. The potential difference of a point in an electrical circuit is typically made with respect to a reference potential, such as the common ground.

Potential difference is commonly known as voltage because volts are the standard unit of measure for this quantity. It is also known historically as pressure and tension. "Pressure" is an obsolete term for potential difference, but it is still used to refer to potential difference within the context of vacuum tube electronics.

Voltage also can be viewed as the energy needed to move a charge between points divided by the magnitude of that charge. This energy total must include both the static and dynamic energy required to move the charge. The calculation of potential difference becomes more accurate as the magnitude of the measured charge becomes smaller.

A quantity of potential difference must include a sign depending on the direction in which the electrons are flowing. The definition of potential difference assumes that positively charged particles move toward lower voltages and negatively charged particles move toward higher voltages. This means that the electrons in a circuit flow from a point of higher voltage to a point of lower voltage.

The description of potential difference frequently uses water as an analogy for electricity. This analogy assumes that a mechanical pump is driving water through a closed circuit of pipes. The potential difference in this analogy is the difference in water pressure between two points in the circuit. Water therefore will flow between the two points if there is a difference in their pressure, allowing the water to perform work. Similarly, an electrical circuit can perform work only if a potential difference exists between two points in the circuit.

Various instruments measure potential difference depending on their method of operation. A voltmeter has two leads, each of which connects to a point in the circuit. This device measures the drop in voltage across a fixed resistor, which is proportional to amount of volts in the circuit.

A potentiometer compares an unknown voltage to a known voltage in the circuit. An oscilloscope amplifies the voltage in the circuit, which deflects an electron beam. The amount of deflection is proportional to the voltage in the circuit. A multimeter measures several electrical quantities, including voltage.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.