How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 250

What is the difference, if any, between appliances with a 2 prong plug and a 3 prong plug?
In the 2 prong system, current travels to the appliance through one prong and leaves through the other prong. The roles of the two prongs interchange every 120th of a second. In the 3-prong system, there is one extra prong and that connects the frame of the appliance to the ground (the earth). This extra connection is a safety feature. If a wire comes loose inside the appliance and touches the frame, the frame can deliver charge and current to you through your hand and you can deliver it to the ground through your feet or your other hand. The earth is very large and a large amount of charge can flow into it without repelling further charge. Moreover most electrical systems are actually connected to the ground at some point. So if current can travel out of the circuit feeding power to the appliance and travel through you and into the ground, it will. You'll get a shock. The ground connection (the extra prong) allows this extra current to flow to ground so easily that a huge current is drawn out of the power source, causing the fuse or circuit breaker in that power source to break the connection. When that power connection is broken, no power can flow to the appliance at all and you can't get a shock from it. Plastic appliances often omit the extra prong because they have nothing dangerous to touch on their exteriors.

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