In this explainer, we will discover what an electric present is and also how to identify the direction of one electric existing in a circuit.

You are watching: Which direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) does conventional current travel

Electric present is the circulation of electric charge. Remind that electrical charge originates from the different parts of one atom, as viewed below.


Together, the positively charged protons, presented in pink, and neutral neutrons, displayed in green, consist of the nucleus. The negatively fee electrons, shown in blue, are external of the nucleus.

Electric existing is the the circulation of electric charge with an electrical conductor. A usual electrical conductor is a cable made that a steel such together copper, iron, or silver.

When discussing the circulation of electrical charge, the is the electron that move through the wire. The protons and also neutrons perform not move. As soon as we to express to electric current, we average the circulation of electron traveling in the same direction along the exact same path. The diagram below shows a wire, with electrons relocating through it.


Electrons are always inside that a wire, even when they space not moving. If the electrons space moving, then it method there is electric charge flowing with the wire. Electric current is the flow of electric charge through a wire.

If the electrons space in a wire however not moving, then electrical charge is not flowing, as checked out in the chart below.


The electrons must have movement in order because that there to it is in an electrical current.

Let’s look in ~ an example.

Example 1: identify Which parts of an Atom circulation in a Wire

The snapshot shows the electrons and atomic nuclei in a ar of copper wire. The blue circles stand for electrons and the red circles represent atomic nuclei.


When there is one electric current in the wire, do the electrons move along the wire?NoYesWhen over there is an electric existing in the wire, do the atom nuclei move along the wire?YesNo


Part 1

When there is an electric existing in a wire, the electrons are moving. If the electrons room not moving, over there is no electrical current.

The answer is B: yes, the electrons relocate along the wire.

Part 2

When over there is an electrical current, the atomic nuclei stay still. Only the electrons move when over there is an electrical current.

The answer come the second part is B: no, the atomic nuclei perform not relocate along the wire.

Electric current is measured in amperes, abbreviated as A. For this reason 10 amperes deserve to be created as 10 A. When there room 0 A of present in a circuit, there is no motion of the electrons at all.

When specifically stating the motion of electron in a wire, we have the right to refer to it together electron current, likewise called electron flow.

Electrons are negative, therefore they circulation toward the optimistic terminal of a cell and away from the negative terminal, as watched in the chart below.


The movement of electrons room what develop electric current, because no various other charged particle is moving.

Let’s look at example question.

Example 2: detect the Direction the Electron circulation in a Circuit

The diagram shows an electrical circuit include a cell and a bulb.

In what direction do electrons flow about the circuit?



The direction the electron circulation in a circuit is away from the negative terminal of a cell and toward the optimistic terminal.

The much shorter side the the cell at the top of this circuit is its an unfavorable terminal. The longer side the the cabinet is the hopeful terminal. The electron circulation in this circuit will hence be relocating counterclockwise, like in the circuit diagram below.

Though the names are an extremely similar, electron current and electric current are not the same. Electron present is the circulation of electron in a wire, and also electric existing is the circulation of charge carriers in a wire.

Early scientists did not understand that electron flowed in a circuit when electric present was present. As soon as these scientists wrote about the flow of electrical charge, they assumed that the electric charge circulation came native positively fee particles.

This method that lock measured the direction of the electric charge carrier from the hopeful terminal come the an adverse terminal of a cell. Such an electrical flow is displayed in the diagram below.

The convention these scientists collection is still supplied today together the default direction of electrical current. This default present direction is called conventional current.

The direction that conventional present is the opposite of electron current, because it assumes positive charge carriers. In reality, no optimistic charges flow at all; they are purely fictitious. Only the electrons relocate in a wire. A diagram comparing conventional current with electron existing is presented below.

Electron current, or electron flow, specifically refers to the flow of electrons. Electric present is much more general, together it describes the circulation of charge carriers, and, by default, it assumes the direction of typical current.

Let’s look in ~ some instance questions.

Example 3: finding the Conventional existing Direction native Electron Flow

The photo below shows the electrons and atomic nuclei in a section of copper wire. The blue circles represent electrons and the red circles stand for atomic nuclei. There is one electric existing in the wire, and also the electrons in it are relocating to the right.

What is the direction that the conventional present in the wire?

To the rightTo the left


The flow of the negatively charged electrons in the diagram is come the right, but conventional current assumes that the charge carriers in the current are positive.

This method that the conventional current direction is in the contrary direction that the electrons. This would certainly be come the left, since the electrons space flowing to the right.

The exactly answer is B: to the left.

Example 4: determining the Conventional present Direction in a Circuit

The diagram reflects an electrical circuit include a cell and also a bulb.

What is the direction of the conventional current in the circuit?



Conventional present direction in a circuit assumes hopeful charge carriers. This means the circulation of this charges would certainly be native the confident terminal that a cabinet to the an adverse terminal.

The confident terminal the the cell, the much longer line, is sharp downward. Hopeful charges would certainly then have actually to circulation counterclockwise, meaning the exactly answer is B.

Whether a charge carrier is the fictitious positive charge in conventional existing or the electron in electron current, fee must circulation in order for there come be electric current.

It does not matter exactly how much charge is present, only that the is moving. The diagram below shows two circuits, one v many much more electrons than the other.

Both circuits have a present of 0 A when the electrons execute not move, regardless of how plenty of electrons are there.

Electrons are also not supplied up as existing decreases in a circuit. Every the electrons are still present; they simply move slower. If the present decreases come 0, it means the electrons have stopped moving entirely. The diagram listed below shows electrons relocating through a irradiate bulb, powering it and causing the to light up.

As the electrons relocate through the irradiate bulb, the light pear does not usage them up or cause them to disappear. The activity of electron is what strength the bulb, so if the electrons relocate slower, the bulb will certainly be much more dim. If the electron stop moving entirely, the bulb will not emit any kind of light in ~ all.

Let’s look at some instance questions.

Example 5: explicate the variety of Electrons in a Circuit after Operation

The diagram shows an electrical circuit include a cell and also a bulb. This circuit is collection up top top a workbench and left on for 1 hour.

At the finish of the hour, space there an ext electrons, fewer electrons, or the same number of electrons in the wires that the circuit than at the start of the hour?

There are an ext electrons in the wires.There are fewer electron in the wires.There are the same number of electrons in the wires.


When the circuit is on, the electron move approximately the circuit, powering the light bulb as they relocate through it.

The electrons strength the bulb through their motion. Over the food of 1 hour, some electrons may have slowed down from powering the light bulb, yet there room still the same number of electrons total in the circuit.

At the end of the hour, ~ powering the irradiate bulb, there are the same number of electrons in the wires. The exactly answer is C.

Example 6: determining the factor for a Dimming Bulb

The diagram shows an electrical circuit containing a cell and also a bulb. This circuit is set up on a workbench and also left on because that 1 hour.

Over the food of the hour, the bulb progressively becomes dimmer. Which of the adhering to statements correctly describes why?

The variety of electrons in the cabinet decreases over time, therefore there are fewer electron that can flow about the circuit.The lot of energy in the cabinet decreases over time, so over there is less power that deserve to be converted into light by the bulb.


When the circuit is on, the electrons move about the circuit, powering the light bulb together they relocate through it.

When a pear dims, the is not due to the fact that there are fewer electron in the circuit, there are simply fewer electrons in motion able to strength it. The number of electrons in the circuit remains the same.

As the energy of the cell slowly runs out, that is can not to press as plenty of electrons v the wire, and thus v the bulb. The correct answer is B.

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Key Points

Electric present is the flow of electrical charge and is measured in amperes.Conventional existing assumes that charge carriers are positive, an interpretation they flows far from confident terminals and also towards negative terminals.Electron current is the actual circulation of electrons, which flow in the contrary direction of standard current.Electrons space not ruined or used up in a circuit as soon as there is no current; they just stop moving.