Electronic – An intuitive interpretation of Negative voltage

circuit analysis

This seems to be very basic but I am confused about it. I know ground is a point whose potential is zero. Now let's take a piece of wire , and mark a point A on that wire. I said , A has potential of -15 with respect to ground, what does that exactly mean? How can a voltage be lesser than zero? Any explanation in terms of electron? For example we define positive voltage as the force at which electrons ar being pushed in a particular point. Can we have an intuitive Idea about negative voltage using this force or electron concept?

Best Answer

You could consider the voltage a bit like floors on a building. A numbering system used in many places in Europe defines that the ground floor is 0 or G, that floors above it are numbered positively and numbers below it are negatively. You now have the option of measuring everything relative to ground (the floor number) or measuring the difference in level between any two floors (the potential or voltage difference).

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In the left image above our man is standing on Floor 2 relative to ground. The electrical analogy is that some point on the circuit is connected to ground / earth and by convention is zero volts and all voltages (heights) are measured relative to this.

An 'all above ground' building will have no negative floors. A bunker or underground car-park will have no positive floors.

If the building is launched off into space he has no ground reference and is free to number the floors any way he wishes, including have Floor 0 at any arbitrary point. This is analogous to having an electrically isolated circuit with no ground connection in that we can call any point 'ground'.


simulate this circuit – Schematic created using CircuitLab

Figure 2. Two 1.5 V cells with three different reference points.

Hopefully Figure 2 makes it a bit clearer. Depending which point we assign as reference (GND) the other points' relative voltage changes.