Electric potential

An electric potential (also called the electric field potential, potential drop or the electrostatic potential) is the amount of work needed to move a unit positive charge from a reference point to a specific point inside the field without producing any acceleration. Typically, the reference point is Earth or a point at Infinity, although any point beyond the influence of the electric field charge can be used.

According to classical electrostatics, electric potential is a scalar quantity denoted by V, equal to the electric potential energy of any charged particle at any location (measured in joules) divided by the charge of that particle (measured in coulombs). By dividing out the charge on the particle a quotient is obtained that is a property of the electric field itself.

This value can be calculated in either a static (time-invariant) or a dynamic (varying with time) electric field at a specific time in units of joules per coulomb (J C−1), or volts (V). The electric potential at infinity is assumed to be zero.

A generalized electric scalar potential is also used in electrodynamics when time-varying electromagnetic fields are present, but this can not be so simply calculated. The electric potential and the magnetic vector potential together form a four vector, so that the two kinds of potential are mixed under Lorentz transformations.


Classical mechanics explores concepts such as force, energy, potential etc. Force and potential energy are directly related. A net force acting on any object will cause it to accelerate. As an object moves in the direction in which the force accelerates it, its potential energy decreases: the gravitational potential energy of a cannonball at the top of a hill is greater than at the base of the hill. As it rolls downhill its potential energy decreases, being translated to motion, inertial (kinetic) energy.

It is possible to define the potential of certain force fields so that the potential energy of an object in that field depends only on the position of the object with respect to the field. Two such force fields are the gravitational field and an electric field (in the absence of time-varying magnetic fields). Such fields must affect objects due to the intrinsic properties of the object (e.g., mass or charge) and the position of the object.

Objects may possess a property known as electric charge and an electric field exerts a force on charged objects. If the charged object has a positive charge the force will be in the direction of the electric field vector at that point while if the charge is negative the force will be in the opposite direction. The magnitude of the force is given by the quantity of the charge multiplied by the magnitude of the electric field vector.

Other Languages
العربية: كمون كهربائي
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Электрычны патэнцыял
한국어: 전위
Bahasa Indonesia: Potensial listrik
Bahasa Melayu: Keupayaan elektrik
日本語: 電位
norsk nynorsk: Elektrisk potensial
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Elektrostatik potensial
Simple English: Electric potential
slovenščina: Električni potencial
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Električni potencijal
Tiếng Việt: Điện thế
中文: 電勢