Difference between Neutral and Earth

This article focus on explaining the similarities and dissimilarities between neutral and Earth (ground). Understanding the difference between the neutral and earth may be difficult in the beginning. A Lot of safety and protection related aspects need to be carefully studied for the better understanding of the difference between them.

Note: In the following article the words earth and ground are synonymous.


Neutral is a return conductor for current flow for a single phase, two wire (L-N) AC circuits. It closes an AC circuit. It is center tap point of a Wye connected transformer. Hence it carries the return current back to the transformer (source). Normally this point is earthed for various reasons.

Earth or Ground

An Earth or ground is a safety connection to protect personnel from electric shock. When a bare conductor inside an equipment touches its metal body or in case of insulation failures, there is a risk of electric shock to the person who operates or touches the equipment. Earth conductors provides a low resistance path for the leakage currents to discharge, hence protecting the equipment and the personnel.

difference between neutral and earth
Image Source: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu

Normally conductor used for grounding an equipment is sized just to carry fault current discharged on the equipment body. A well-grounded equipment avoids the risk of electric shock the person using it.

Normally the neutral point is earthed at the distribution transformer (Delta – Wye connected transformers). This helps in keeping the earth and neutral in th same potential and protects against dangerous transient voltages in neutral.

 Summary: Difference between Neutral and ground

Neutral is the return path for current flow in a single phase, two wire system (L-N).

Ground is a safety connection for safely discharging the leakage current.

Difference between neutral and earth
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