What is negative voltage?

What is negative voltage?


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Just a general electronics question: What is negative voltage, like -5 Volt?

From my basic knowledge, power is generated by electrons wandering from the minus to the plus side of the power source (assuming DC power here). Is negative voltage when electrons wander from + to -?

Why do some devices even need it, what is so special about it?

asked Feb 17 ‘11 at 2:40
up vote  44  down vote  accepted

Someone may have better words to explain this then me, but the big thing you have to remember is voltage is a potential difference. In most cases the “difference” part is a difference between some potential and ground potential. When someone says -5v they are saying that you are below ground.

You also need to keep in mind that voltage is relative. So like I mentioned before most people reference to “ground”, but what is ground? You can say ground is earth ground, but what about the case when you have a battery powered device that has no contact to ground. In this situation we have to treat some arbitrary point as “ground”. Usually the – terminal on the battery is what we consider from this reference.

Now consider the case that you have 2 batteries in series. If both were 5 volts then you would say you would have 10 volts total.

But the assumption that you get 0/+10 is based off of “ground” as being the negative terminal on the battery that isn’t touching the other battery and then 10V as being the location of the positive terminal that isn’t touching the other battery. In this situation we can make the decision that we want to make the connection between the 2 batteries be our “ground” reference. This would then result in +5v on one end and -5v on the other end.

Here is what I was trying to explain:

+10v   +++   +5v
       | |
       | | < Battery
       | |
+5v    ---   0v
       | |
       | | < Another Battery
       | |
0v     ---   -5v
answered Feb 17 ‘11 at 2:49

Imagine you’re measuring the height of a car. You could take a tape measure and measure the distance from the ground to the roof of the car. “The roof of this car is 4 feet above the ground.”

You could also stand on the roof of the car and dangle the same tape measure down to the ground. “The ground is 4 feet below the roof of this car.”

Voltage works the same way. The negative sign is just a convention, in the same way that the car has the same height, regardless of which way you measure it. Flip your multimeter leads, and the negative sign will disappear.

answered Feb 17 ‘11 at 4:00

Voltage is a difference in potential. If I connect terminal A of a device to potential of 30 volts and terminal B to a potential 20 volts. The potential from A to B is 10 volts, but the potential from B to A is – 10 volts.

Think of it a tall building To go from floor 30 to floor 20 you go down 10 floors.

answered Feb 17 ‘11 at 13:17
Jim C

oh why not ..

To say you have a voltage of +5V at point A means that point A is 5 volts more positive than your chosen ground.

To say you have a voltage of -5V at point B means that ‘ground’ is 5 volts more positive than point B.

The sign just tells you the polarity of the voltage, with respect to the ground node.

answered Feb 17 ‘11 at 11:31

Some OP-Amps, for example the veteran 741, require their supply as two voltages, one positive and the other negative with respect to the ground or zero level of the signal input and output.In this context it is natural to speak of the supplies being +15v and -15v (these are the values commonly quoted for the 741)

An alternating voltage, such as the a.c mains supply, swings positive and negative with respect to the neutral line, which is very close to the earth potential, so “neutral” is regarded as at zero voltage.

answered Jul 16 ‘12 at 21:48

Well, just to chuck in my two cents, let’s say you have an ungrounded device. With +10 volts, you’re expecting the current to come of the battery, through the widget, and then… where? It’s only 10 volts, so arcing through the air to ground isn’t really possible, but it could go through the case into the hand of the user, or the charge could simply stay on the far end of the widget. So now you have +10 volts on one side and +8 volts or something on the other, relative to ground. The wiget only sees a 2 volt difference though.

With a a +5V and a -5V the current is both pushed into the widget and pulled out of the widget.

answered Feb 17 ‘11 at 15:43

voltage is just a relative unit… consider a point as 5v and another point as 6v then voltage is 6v-5v=1v now take it in reverse manner 5v-6v=-1v… sign is just conventional…

answered Oct 10 ‘13 at 17:30

Voltage between two physical points \$A\$ and \$B\$ is defined as

\$ V_{AB} = – \displaystyle \int\limits_{A}^{B} \vec{E}.d\vec{\ell}, \$

where \$\vec{E}\$ is the electric field on the path of the integration.

\$V_{AB}\$ becomes negative or positive (or just zero) according to this integration. For example, if you swap the points \$A\$ and \$B\$, the sign changes.


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