Series and parallel circuits

Last updated
A series circuit with a voltage source (such as a battery, or in this case a cell) and 3 resistance units Series circuit.svg
A series circuit with a voltage source (such as a battery, or in this case a cell) and 3 resistance units

Components of an electrical circuit or electronic circuit can be connected in series, parallel, or series-parallel. The two simplest of these are called series and parallel and occur frequently. Components connected in series are connected along a single conductive path, so the same current flows through all of the components but voltage is dropped (lost) across each of the resistances. In a series circuit, the sum of the voltages consumed by each individual resistance is equal to the source voltage. [1] [2] Components connected in parallel are connected along multiple paths so that the current can split up; the same voltage is applied to each component. [3]

Electrical network interconnection of electrical components or a model of such an interconnection, consisting of electrical elements

An electrical network is an interconnection of electrical components or a model of such an interconnection, consisting of electrical elements. An electrical circuit is a network consisting of a closed loop, giving a return path for the current. Linear electrical networks, a special type consisting only of sources, linear lumped elements, and linear distributed elements, have the property that signals are linearly superimposable. They are thus more easily analyzed, using powerful frequency domain methods such as Laplace transforms, to determine DC response, AC response, and transient response.

Electronic circuit electrical circuit with active components such as transistors, valves and integrated circuits; electrical network that contains active electronic components, generally nonlinear and require complex design and analysis tools

An electronic circuit is composed of individual electronic components, such as resistors, transistors, capacitors, inductors and diodes, connected by conductive wires or traces through which electric current can flow. To be referred to as electronic, rather than electrical, generally at least one active component must be present. The combination of components and wires allows various simple and complex operations to be performed: signals can be amplified, computations can be performed, and data can be moved from one place to another.

Electric current flow of electric charge

An electric current is a flow of electric charge. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by electrons moving through a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in an ionized gas (plasma).


A circuit composed solely of components connected in series is known as a series circuit; likewise, one connected completely in parallel is known as a parallel circuit.

In a series circuit, the current that flows through each of the components is the same, and the voltage across the circuit is the sum of the individual voltage drops across each component. [1] In a parallel circuit, the voltage across each of the components is the same, and the total current is the sum of the flowing through each component. [1]

Voltage difference in the electric potential between two points in space

Voltage, electric potential difference, electric pressure or electric tension is the difference in electric potential between two points. The difference in electric potential between two points in a static electric field is defined as the work needed per unit of charge to move a test charge between the two points. In the International System of Units, the derived unit for voltage is named volt. In SI units, work per unit charge is expressed as joules per coulomb, where 1 volt = 1 joule per 1 coulomb. The official SI definition for volt uses power and current, where 1 volt = 1 watt per 1 ampere. This definition is equivalent to the more commonly used 'joules per coulomb'. Voltage or electric potential difference is denoted symbolically by V, but more often simply as V, for instance in the context of Ohm's or Kirchhoff's circuit laws.

Voltage drop is the decrease of electrical potential along the path of a current flowing in an electrical circuit. Voltage drops in the internal resistance of the source, across conductors, across contacts, and across connectors are undesirable because some of the energy supplied is dissipated. The voltage drop across the electrical load is proportional to the power available to be converted in that load to some other useful form of energy.

Consider a very simple circuit consisting of four light bulbs and a 12-volt automotive battery. If a wire joins the battery to one bulb, to the next bulb, to the next bulb, to the next bulb, then back to the battery in one continuous loop, the bulbs are said to be in series. If each bulb is wired to the battery in a separate loop, the bulbs are said to be in parallel. If the four light bulbs are connected in series, the same amperage flows through all of them and the voltage drop is 3-volts across each bulb, which may not be sufficient to make them glow. If the light bulbs are connected in parallel, the currents through the light bulbs combine to form the current in the battery, while the voltage drop is 12-volts across each bulb and they all glow.

Automotive battery rechargeable battery for starting a car engine

An automotive battery is a rechargeable battery that supplies electrical current to a motor vehicle. Its main purpose is to feed the starter, which starts the engine. Once the engine is running, power for the car's electrical systems is supplied by the alternator.

In a series circuit, every device must function for the circuit to be complete. If one bulb burns out in a series circuit, the entire circuit is broken. In parallel circuits, each light bulb has its own circuit, so all but one light could be burned out, and the last one will still function.

Series circuits

Series circuits are sometimes referred to as current-coupled or daisy chain-coupled. The current in a series circuit goes through every component in the circuit. Therefore, all of the components in a series connection carry the same current.

Daisy chain (electrical engineering)

In electrical and electronic engineering a daisy chain is a wiring scheme in which multiple devices are wired together in sequence or in a ring. Other than a full, single loop, systems which contain internal loops cannot be called daisy chains.

A series circuit has only one path in which its current can flow. Opening or breaking a series circuit at any point causes the entire circuit to "open" or stop operating. For example, if even one of the light bulbs in an older-style string of Christmas tree lights burns out or is removed, the entire string becomes inoperable until the bulb is replaced.

Single point of failure A part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working

A single point of failure (SPOF) is a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working. SPOFs are undesirable in any system with a goal of high availability or reliability, be it a business practice, software application, or other industrial system.


In a series circuit, the current is the same for all of the elements.


In a series circuit, the voltage is the sum of the voltage drops of the individual components (resistance units).

Resistance units

The total resistance of resistance units in series is equal to the sum of their individual resistances:

Resistors in series.svg

Rs=>Resistance in series

Electrical conductance presents a reciprocal quantity to resistance. Total conductance of a series circuits of pure resistances, therefore, can be calculated from the following expression:


For a special case of two resistances in series, the total conductance is equal to:


Inductors follow the same law, in that the total inductance of non-coupled inductors in series is equal to the sum of their individual inductances:

Inductors in series.svg

However, in some situations, it is difficult to prevent adjacent inductors from influencing each other, as the magnetic field of one device coupled with the windings of its neighbours. This influence is defined by the mutual inductance M. For example if two inductors are in series, there are two possible equivalent inductances depending on how the magnetic fields of both inductors influence each other.

When there are more than two inductors, the mutual inductance between each of them and the way the coils influence each other complicates the calculation. For a larger number of coils the total combined inductance is given by the sum of all mutual inductances between the various coils including the mutual inductance of each given coil with itself, which we term self-inductance or simply inductance. For three coils, there are six mutual inductances , , and , and . There are also the three self-inductances of the three coils: , and .


By reciprocity = so that the last two groups can be combined. The first three terms represent the sum of the self-inductances of the various coils. The formula is easily extended to any number of series coils with mutual coupling. The method can be used to find the self-inductance of large coils of wire of any cross-sectional shape by computing the sum of the mutual inductance of each turn of wire in the coil with every other turn since in such a coil all turns are in series.


Capacitors follow the same law using the reciprocals. The total capacitance of capacitors in series is equal to the reciprocal of the sum of the reciprocals of their individual capacitances:

Capacitors in series.svg



Two or more switches in series form a logical AND; the circuit only carries current if all switches are closed. See AND gate.

Cells and batteries

A battery is a collection of electrochemical cells. If the cells are connected in series, the voltage of the battery will be the sum of the cell voltages. For example, a 12 volt car battery contains six 2-volt cells connected in series. Some vehicles, such as trucks, have two 12 volt batteries in series to feed the 24-volt system.

Parallel circuits

If two or more components are connected in parallel, they have the same difference of potential (voltage) across their ends. The potential differences across the components are the same in magnitude, and they also have identical polarities. The same voltage is applied to all circuit components connected in parallel. The total current is the sum of the currents through the individual components, in accordance with Kirchhoff’s current law.


In a parallel circuit, the voltage is the same for all elements.


The current in each individual resistor is found by Ohm's law. Factoring out the voltage gives


Resistance units

To find the total resistance of all components, add the reciprocals of the resistances of each component and take the reciprocal of the sum. Total resistance will always be less than the value of the smallest resistance:

Resistors in parallel.svg


For only two resistances, the unreciprocated expression is reasonably simple:

This sometimes goes by the mnemonic product over sum.

For N equal resistances in parallel, the reciprocal sum expression simplifies to:


and therefore to:


To find the current in a component with resistance , use Ohm's law again:


The components divide the current according to their reciprocal resistances, so, in the case of two resistors,


An old term for devices connected in parallel is multiple, such as multiple connections for arc lamps.

Since electrical conductance is reciprocal to resistance, the expression for total conductance of a parallel circuit of resistors reads:


The relations for total conductance and resistance stand in a complementary relationship: the expression for a series connection of resistances is the same as for parallel connection of conductances, and vice versa.


Inductors follow the same law, in that the total inductance of non-coupled inductors in parallel is equal to the reciprocal of the sum of the reciprocals of their individual inductances:

Inductors in parallel.svg


If the inductors are situated in each other's magnetic fields, this approach is invalid due to mutual inductance. If the mutual inductance between two coils in parallel is M, the equivalent inductor is:


The sign of depends on how the magnetic fields influence each other. For two equal tightly coupled coils the total inductance is close to that of every single coil. If the polarity of one coil is reversed so that M is negative, then the parallel inductance is nearly zero or the combination is almost non-inductive. It is assumed in the "tightly coupled" case M is very nearly equal to L. However if the inductances are not equal and the coils are tightly coupled there can be near short circuit conditions and high circulating currents for both positive and negative values of M, which can cause problems.

More than three inductors become more complex and the mutual inductance of each inductor on each other inductor and their influence on each other must be considered. For three coils, there are three mutual inductances , and . This is best handled by matrix methods and summing the terms of the inverse of the matrix (3 by 3 in this case).

The pertinent equations are of the form:


The total capacitance of capacitors in parallel is equal to the sum of their individual capacitances:

Capacitors in parallel.svg


The working voltage of a parallel combination of capacitors is always limited by the smallest working voltage of an individual capacitor.


Two or more switches in parallel form a logical OR; the circuit carries current if at least one switch is closed. See OR gate.

Cells and batteries

If the cells of a battery are connected in parallel, the battery voltage will be the same as the cell voltage, but the current supplied by each cell will be a fraction of the total current. For example, if a battery comprises four identical cells connected in parallel and delivers a current of 1 ampere, the current supplied by each cell will be 0.25 ampere. Parallel-connected batteries were widely used to power the valve filaments in portable radios. Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries (particularly laptop batteries) are often connected in parallel to increase the ampere-hour rating. Some solar electric systems have batteries in parallel to increase the storage capacity; a close approximation of total amp-hours is the sum of all amp-hours of in-parallel batteries.

Combining conductances

From Kirchhoff's circuit laws we can deduce the rules for combining conductances. For two conductances and in parallel, the voltage across them is the same and from Kirchhoff's current law (KCL) the total current is

Substituting Ohm's law for conductances gives

and the equivalent conductance will be,

For two conductances and in series the current through them will be the same and Kirchhoff's Voltage Law tells us that the voltage across them is the sum of the voltages across each conductance, that is,

Substituting Ohm's law for conductance then gives,

which in turn gives the formula for the equivalent conductance,

This equation can be rearranged slightly, though this is a special case that will only rearrange like this for two components.


The value of two components in parallel is often represented in equations by two vertical lines, ∥, borrowing the parallel lines notation from geometry.

This simplifies expressions that would otherwise become complicated by expansion of the terms. For instance:



A common application of series circuit in consumer electronics is in batteries, where several cells connected in series are used to obtain a convenient operating voltage. Two disposable zinc cells in series might power a flashlight or remote control at 3 volts; the battery pack for a hand-held power tool might contain a dozen lithium-ion cells wired in series to provide 48 volts.

Series circuits were formerly used for lighting in electric multiple units trains. For example, if the supply voltage was 600 volts there might be eight 70-volt bulbs in series (total 560 volts) plus a resistor to drop the remaining 40 volts. Series circuits for train lighting were superseded, first by motor-generators, then by solid state devices.

Series resistance can also be applied to the arrangement of blood vessels within a given organ. Each organ is supplied by a large artery, smaller arteries, arterioles, capillaries, and veins arranged in series. The total resistance is the sum of the individual resistances, as expressed by the following equation: Rtotal = Rartery + Rarterioles + Rcapillaries. The largest proportion of resistance in this series is contributed by the arterioles. [4]

Parallel resistance is illustrated by the circulatory system. Each organ is supplied by an artery that branches off the aorta. The total resistance of this parallel arrangement is expressed by the following equation: 1/Rtotal = 1/Ra + 1/Rb + ... 1/Rn. Ra, Rb, and Rn are the resistances of the renal, hepatic, and other arteries respectively. The total resistance is less than the resistance of any of the individual arteries. [4]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Resnick et al. (1966), Chapter 32, Example 1.
  2. Smith, R.J. (1966), page 21
  3. Resnick et al.
  4. 1 2 Board Review Series: Physiology by Linda S. Costanzo pg. 74

Related Research Articles

Inductor passive two-terminal electrical component that stores energy in its magnetic field

An inductor, also called a coil, choke, or reactor, is a passive two-terminal electrical component that stores energy in a magnetic field when electric current flows through it. An inductor typically consists of an insulated wire wound into a coil around a core.

Transmission line specialized cable or other structure designed to carry alternating current of radio frequency

In radio-frequency engineering, a transmission line is a specialized cable or other structure designed to conduct alternating current of radio frequency, that is, currents with a frequency high enough that their wave nature must be taken into account. Transmission lines are used for purposes such as connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas, distributing cable television signals, trunklines routing calls between telephone switching centres, computer network connections and high speed computer data buses.

Electrical impedance intensive physical property

Electrical impedance is the measure of the opposition that a circuit presents to a current when a voltage is applied. The term complex impedance may be used interchangeably.

Rectifier AC-DC conversion device; electrical device that converts alternating current (AC), which periodically reverses direction, to direct current (DC), which flows in only one direction

A rectifier is an electrical device that converts alternating current (AC), which periodically reverses direction, to direct current (DC), which flows in only one direction.

Inductance electrical property

In electromagnetism and electronics, inductance describes the tendency of an electrical conductor, such as coil, to oppose a change in the electric current through it. The change in current induces a reverse electromotive force (voltage). When an electric current flows through a conductor, it creates a magnetic field around that conductor. A changing current, in turn, creates a changing magnetic field, the surface integral of which is known as magnetic flux. From Faraday's law of induction, any change in magnetic flux through a circuit induces an electromotive force (voltage) across that circuit, a phenomenon known as electromagnetic induction. Inductance is specifically defined as the ratio between this induced voltage and the rate of change of the current in the circuit

Thévenins theorem Theorem in [[circuit analysis]]

As originally stated in terms of DC resistive circuits only, Thévenin's theorem holds that:

Voltage divider linear circuit that produces an output voltage that is a fraction of its input voltage

In electronics, a voltage divider is a passive linear circuit that produces an output voltage (Vout) that is a fraction of its input voltage (Vin). Voltage division is the result of distributing the input voltage among the components of the divider. A simple example of a voltage divider is two resistors connected in series, with the input voltage applied across the resistor pair and the output voltage emerging from the connection between them.

Gyrator analog circuit

A gyrator is a passive, linear, lossless, two-port electrical network element proposed in 1948 by Bernard D. H. Tellegen as a hypothetical fifth linear element after the resistor, capacitor, inductor and ideal transformer. Unlike the four conventional elements, the gyrator is non-reciprocal. Gyrators permit network realizations of two-(or-more)-port devices which cannot be realized with just the conventional four elements. In particular, gyrators make possible network realizations of isolators and circulators. Gyrators do not however change the range of one-port devices that can be realized. Although the gyrator was conceived as a fifth linear element, its adoption makes both the ideal transformer and either the capacitor or inductor redundant. Thus the number of necessary linear elements is in fact reduced to three. Circuits that function as gyrators can be built with transistors and op-amps using feedback.

Common collector

In electronics, a common collector amplifier is one of three basic single-stage bipolar junction transistor (BJT) amplifier topologies, typically used as a voltage buffer.

LC circuit

An LC circuit, also called a resonant circuit, tank circuit, or tuned circuit, is an electric circuit consisting of an inductor, represented by the letter L, and a capacitor, represented by the letter C, connected together. The circuit can act as an electrical resonator, an electrical analogue of a tuning fork, storing energy oscillating at the circuit's resonant frequency.

Output impedance

The output impedance of an electrical network is the measure of the opposition to current flow (impedance), both static (resistance) and dynamic (reactance), into the load network being connected that is internal to the electrical source. The output impedance is a measure of the source's propensity to drop in voltage when the load draws current. The source network being the portion of the network that transmits and the load network being the portion of the network that consumes.

A network, in the context of electronics, is a collection of interconnected components. Network analysis is the process of finding the voltages across, and the currents through, every component in the network. There are many different techniques for calculating these values. However, for the most part, the applied technique assumes that the components of the network are all linear. The methods described in this article are only applicable to linear network analysis, except where explicitly stated.

A Colpitts oscillator, invented in 1918 by American engineer Edwin H. Colpitts, is one of a number of designs for LC oscillators, electronic oscillators that use a combination of inductors (L) and capacitors (C) to produce an oscillation at a certain frequency. The distinguishing feature of the Colpitts oscillator is that the feedback for the active device is taken from a voltage divider made of two capacitors in series across the inductor.

A resistor–inductor circuit, or RL filter or RL network, is an electric circuit composed of resistors and inductors driven by a voltage or current source. A first-order RL circuit is composed of one resistor and one inductor and is the simplest type of RL circuit.

AC power

Power in an electric circuit is the rate of flow of energy past a given point of the circuit. In alternating current circuits, energy storage elements such as inductors and capacitors may result in periodic reversals of the direction of energy flow.

Ripple in electronics is the residual periodic variation of the DC voltage within a power supply which has been derived from an alternating current (AC) source. This ripple is due to incomplete suppression of the alternating waveform after rectification. Ripple voltage originates as the output of a rectifier or from generation and commutation of DC power.

Capacitor electrical component used to store energy for a short period of time

A capacitor is a passive two-terminal electronic component that stores electrical energy in an electric field. The effect of a capacitor is known as capacitance. While some capacitance exists between any two electrical conductors in proximity in a circuit, a capacitor is a component designed to add capacitance to a circuit. The capacitor was originally known as a condenser or condensator. The original name is still widely used in many languages, but not commonly in English.

The telegrapher's equations are a pair of coupled, linear differential equations that describe the voltage and current on an electrical transmission line with distance and time. The equations come from Oliver Heaviside who in the 1880s developed the transmission line model. The model demonstrates that the electromagnetic waves can be reflected on the wire, and that wave patterns can appear along the line. The theory applies to transmission lines of all frequencies including high-frequency transmission lines, audio frequency, low frequency and direct current.

RLC circuit

An RLC circuit is an electrical circuit consisting of a resistor (R), an inductor (L), and a capacitor (C), connected in series or in parallel. The name of the circuit is derived from the letters that are used to denote the constituent components of this circuit, where the sequence of the components may vary from RLC.