# What does it mean to be ''in series'' or ''in parallel''

• gfd43tg
In summary, the definitions of "series" and "parallel" in regards to circuits are as follows: - Series: two components are connected end to end with a shared node, allowing the same current to flow through both components. The center node cannot connect to any other components. - Parallel: two components are connected between two shared nodes, allowing the same voltage to be present across both components. It is irrelevant what the nodes do outside of the parallel construct. These concepts are useful for simplification and understanding, but not essential for solving circuits.
gfd43tg
Gold Member
Hello,

I've had a qualm over the definition of ''in series'' or ''in parallel''. I want to know, when two components are in series, does that mean that they share the same current, or does it mean that the components only share one node on one side of the component with each other.

Similarly, does being ''in parallel'' mean that the components have the same voltage, or does it mean that they are sharing at least 2 nodes with each other. Meaning, the components are connected to the same nodes on each side of the component.

I think if the definition regarding the node sharing is incorrect or not general, then I will continue to have problems identifying circuits in parallel or series, especially when given odd arrangements (which is of undoubtedly what will be on the exams for my circuit analysis class) because it is less clear to know if two components share a voltage or not.

Okay, that article says about the current being the same in series and the voltage being the same in parallel. Great. That doesn't do me so much good because on a circuit it isn't always obvious if the voltage is the same. I want to know if my node definition holds. Yes, I know I want to force my own definition because it makes problems easier to solve for me.

The words are self explanatory: Series refers to an end to end connection. Parallel means connected between the same points.

PhysicoRaj said:
The words are self explanatory: Series refers to an end to end connection. Parallel means connected between the same points.

I'd say that's a very bad way to describe series, since you're definition would allow the middle node to go elsewhere and then it would NOT be series.

Maylis, the definitions are

Series --- the two elements have a node in common that does not go anywhere else, so the same current flows through both.

Parallel --- the nodes have BOTH nodes in common so the voltage is the same across them.

phinds said:
I'd say that's a very bad way to describe series, since you're definition would allow the middle node to go elsewhere and then it would NOT be series.

I meant to say 'end to end one after the other'. The inclusion of 'not going anywhere' does it. Thanks for correcting me.

phinds said:
I'd say that's a very bad way to describe series, since you're definition would allow the middle node to go elsewhere and then it would NOT be series.

Maylis, the definitions are

Series --- the two elements have a node in common that does not go anywhere else, so the same current flows through both.

Parallel --- the nodes have BOTH nodes in common so the voltage is the same across them.

Okay awesome, that was what I was leaning towards. However, I want to clear this up. Can the components have two nodes in common, but one node has a wire branching off somewhere else, yet the two components are still in parallel.

Maylis said:
Okay awesome, that was what I was leaning towards. However, I want to clear this up. Can the components have two nodes in common, but one node has a wire branching off somewhere else, yet the two components are still in parallel.

Yes, you wouldn't have much of a circuit otherwise

In a parallel construct it is irrelevant what the nodes do outside of the construct. In a series construct, you can't have the center note going off somewhere else because that would change the current, probably making the current different in the two elements which violates the meaning of "series".

Series connection: two devices are in series if they connect to each other at one node AND NOTHING ELSE CONNECTS THERE.

Parallel connection: two devices are in parallel if they connect to each other at TWO nodes.

dauto said:
Series connection: two devices are in series if they connect to each other at one node AND NOTHING ELSE CONNECTS THERE.

Parallel connection: two devices are in parallel if they connect to each other at TWO nodes.

How is that different than what I said in post #5?

phinds said:
How is that different than what I said in post #5?

Not different, just clearer (I hope)

Note that series and parallel are not essential concepts. They are useful for simplification and understanding, and you have to learn them to pass your tests. But you can solve any circuit without ever identifying any series or parallel elements, and some configurations (e.g. Wheatstone bridge) cannot be described as either series or parallel.

So don't stress out too much about it.

DaleSpam said:
Note that series and parallel are not essential concepts. They are useful for simplification and understanding, and you have to learn them to pass your tests. But you can solve any circuit without ever identifying any series or parallel elements, and some configurations (e.g. Wheatstone bridge) cannot be described as either series or parallel.

Good points

## What does it mean to be "in series"?

Being "in series" means that components in a circuit are connected one after the other, creating a single pathway for current to flow through. In this configuration, the total resistance of the circuit is equal to the sum of each individual component's resistance.

## What does it mean to be "in parallel"?

Being "in parallel" means that components in a circuit are connected side by side, creating multiple pathways for current to flow through. In this configuration, the total resistance of the circuit is less than the resistance of any individual component.

## How does being "in series" affect voltage?

In a series circuit, voltage is divided among the different components. This means that the voltage across each component will be less than the total voltage of the circuit. In other words, the total voltage is equal to the sum of the individual voltage drops across each component.

## How does being "in parallel" affect current?

In a parallel circuit, the total current is equal to the sum of the currents flowing through each individual component. This means that the total current is divided among the different pathways, and the current through each component may be different.

## Which configuration should I use - "in series" or "in parallel"?

The choice of series or parallel configuration depends on the specific circuit and its intended purpose. In general, series circuits are used for components that need the same amount of current, while parallel circuits are used for components that need different amounts of current. Series circuits are also useful for voltage division and parallel circuits are useful for current division.

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