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Types and Components of Electric Circuits

Rochelle Enrera, David Wood
  • Author
    Rochelle Enrera

    Rochelle has a bachelor's degree in Physics for Teachers from Philippine Normal University-Manila and has completed 30+ units in MS Geology at University of the Philippines-Diliman. She is a licensed teacher and has taught Grade 10 Physics for three years. She has been a science content writer and copywriter for over three years now.

  • Instructor
    David Wood

    David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn to define what an electric circuit is. Explain the basic components of an electric circuit and discover the types of electric circuits and how they work. Updated: 12/08/2021

Table of Contents


What is an Electric Circuit?

An electric circuit is composed of electrical components that form a continuous conducting path connected to the terminals of a power source. In simple circuits, the power source is usually a dry cell or a series of dry cells commonly called a battery. It is connected to a load or a device, which can be a light bulb, a resistor, a heater, etc. A complete or closed circuit is formed when current flows continuously in the circuit. However, any break on the circuit that stops the flow of current creates an open circuit.

An example of an electric circuit composed of a lightbulb, a switch, a dry cell, and wires.

example of an electric circuit

Electric circuits are an integral part of day-to-day life. Simple battery-powered devices contain electric circuits that make them work. Electric fans, light bulbs, televisions, and radios function well when connected to a socket because of a complete electric circuit. Electric circuits are also an essential component of any large-scale industries and businesses. They help provide an easier and more comfortable way of living, and a lot of activities would not be possible without electric circuits.

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Types of Circuits

There are different types of electric circuits; each one has its advantages and can be used for a specific purpose. One distinction comes from the direction of the flow of current, as with AC and DC circuits.

DC Circuits

Direct current or DC circuit is characterized by the flow of current in one direction. It is commonly found in low-voltage applications and is usually powered by a battery. A simple circuit containing a lightbulb, a switch, and a battery is an example of a DC circuit. As shown in the direction of the arrows in the diagram below, current flows in only one direction.

Charges flow in one direction in a DC circuit.

flow of current in a DC circuit

DC circuits are also categorized into two types based on how the components are connected. These two types are parallel and series circuits.

Parallel Circuit

A parallel circuit has two or more separate paths for the current to flow,. Electrical connections found at home and most commercial establishments are in parallel. In this type of connection, the rest of the circuit still works even if one device is disconnected.

A parallel connection is characterized by two or more separate branches for the current to flow.

parallel circuit

When different loads, such as light bulbs or resistors, are connected in parallel, the voltage across each load is the same. Since it is composed of several paths, the total current in the circuit is the sum of the individual currents passing through each load.

Series Circuit

A series circuit is characterized by a single path for the current to flow. In this type of connection, the electrical components are connected end to end, as shown in the diagram. Since there is only one path, the current that flows in one load (e.g., light bulb or resistor) is the same amount of current that passes through the other loads. The total voltage in the circuit is the sum of the individual voltages in each load.

A series circuit is distinguished by a single path for the current to flow.

series circuit

Water heaters, freezers, and refrigerators employ a series circuit to control the temperature of the device. Once the desired temperature is reached, the circuit automatically opens and stops the flow of current.

AC Circuits

An alternating current or AC circuit is characterized by a periodic reversal of the current's direction. The changing current then varies the value of the voltage as it fluctuates between a negative and a positive value in line with the changes in the current. A fluorescent lamp, for example, whose power supply has a frequency of 120 Hz, would flicker 120 times per second. This fluctuation is so rapid that it would be difficult for the eyes to detect.

Power distributions use AC circuits, so most households and commercial establishments employ this type of circuit. Note that electricity is generated by large power-generation plants, and requires transmission through long distances to reach individual users. To achieve this with minimal power losses, high voltages from power plants are transmitted then reduced to smaller values once it reaches the user. The increase and decrease of voltages are much easier to accomplish in AC circuits than in DC, which is why AC is more commonly used in large power distributions.

Large power distributions use AC circuits.

large-scale transmission lines

Components of Electric Circuit

What are the three components of a circuit? The basic components of electric circuits include a voltage source, a load, and a conductive pathway.

  • A voltage source is an electrical component that supplies energy. It provides a potential difference for the charges to flow. Examples of voltage sources are a battery and a generator.
  • The load in a circuit is a device that uses electrical energy. A load can be a resistor, a light bulb, or a motor.
  • A conductive pathway provides a path for the current to flow and is used to connect the electrical components to each other and the power source.

The three basic components of an electric circuits.

electric circuit components

Besides these three basic elements, most electrical circuits also employ a switch to easily turn on or off the circuit. Other common passive electrical components are resistors, capacitors, and inductors.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main types of circuits?

Electric circuits are categorized based on the current's direction, namely DC and AC circuits. Direct current or DC circuits are characterized by the flow of current in a single direction, while alternating current or AC circuits have periodic reversals of the current direction. The DC circuit is also categorized into two--series and parallel. Series circuits consist of only one path for the current to flow, while parallel circuits are composed of two or more branches/paths.

What are the components of a circuit?

The basic components of an electric circuit are: a voltage source (to supply energy); the load (the device that uses energy); and a conductive pathway by which the current flows.

In addition to these three, most electrical circuits also employ a switch to turn on or off a circuit. Other passive components found in most circuits are resistors, capacitors, and inductors.

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