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Simple Definitions

The most important electronics terms, demystified in one place.

Alternating Current

Our Take

Current that regularly changes direction due to an alternative positive and negative voltage. Typically refers to the type of current you get from the wall and sometimes but not usually used when referring to RF or other high-frequency waveforms.

Book Definition

A current that varies sinusoidally with time.

Fundamentals of Electric Circuits, 5th Edition by Charles K. Alexander and Matthew N. O. Sadiku


Alternating current (AC) is an electric current which periodically reverses direction, in contrast to direct current (DC) which flows only in one direction. Alternating current is the form in which electric power is delivered to businesses and residences, and it is the form of electrical energy that consumers typically use when they plug kitchen appliances, televisions, fans and electric lamps into a wall socket. A common source of DC power is a battery cell in a flashlight. The abbreviations AC and DC are often used to mean simply alternating and direct, as when they modify current or voltage.[1][2]

The usual waveform of alternating current in most electric power circuits is a sine wave, whose positive half-period corresponds with positive direction of the current and vice versa. In certain applications, like guitar amplifiers, different waveforms are used, such as triangular or square waves. Audio and radio signals carried on electrical wires are also examples of alternating current. These types of alternating current carry information such as sound (audio) or images (video) sometimes carried by modulation of an AC carrier signal. These currents typically alternate at higher frequencies than those used in power transmission.

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