I'm replacing the outlets in our house and pulled out one that had two black and two white cables. My first thought was that it was two circuits, one of them being switched, but then realized the tab between the two circuits wasn't broken.

I hadn't seen this before, but I guess it makes sense. I suppose it's an alternative to pig tailing the wires in the box. Is there an argument to choose one method over the other? Or are they both perfectly valid option?

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    there are two sets of wires because one set is charge (coming into the outlet) and the other one is load (going out to the next box/outlet). nothing unusual about it. the tab is not broken because it serves to connect the two
    – amphibient
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 17:00
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    @amphibient oh, to clarify, I got why there were two sets--I just wasn't used to seeing the outlet, itself, being used to connect them. In past homes, that was always done via pigtailing.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 17:07

20 Answers 20


I rarely see pigtails to join the outlet line/load connections in any of the renovation work I've done. I think it's just easier for the electrician to wire both parts of the outlet, rather than getting a small piece of wire, twist, affix nut, and attach to the outlet. It also takes up less space in the j-box.

Of course the line/load are pigtailed in other j-boxes (e.g. lighting fixtures and switches) since they don't have two screw terminals. And you would pigtail the lines before a GFCI if the next device shouldn't be protected by that GFCI outlet, but otherwise you would always use the line/load terminals in a GFCI.

  • Well, I've only owned one home prior to this, so I suppose the person that did that one just preferred the pig tail option.
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 22:43
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    Agreed, it's just easier when you're going around the room to wire up the 'north' and 'south' sides of outlets
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 22:44
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    The electrical inspector told me that pig tails are required. (So my receptacles all have pig tails)
    – Craig
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 23:33
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    @Craig Pigtailing is definitely the recommended practice, but I don't think it's required by code.
    – Michael
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 1:43
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    @Craig, pigtails are required on MWBCs always, so if you have those, that might be why. Or it might be a local code amendment.
    – Nate S.
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 18:23

Mike quotes the code (300.13B Device Removal) but misunderstands what it means. The paragraph's 1st sentence starts out, "In multiwire branch circuits,". That means where 2 or 3 circuits with 1 shared neutral wire are passing through a box. You'll probably never see this kind of wiring in a home, but if you have 2 or 3 circuits sharing a neutral in the same cable or raceway supplying several fixtures and/or devices, they want you to pigtail the neutrals (and only the neutrals!) at each device or fixture connection.

Otherwise, because it violates common sense (and cost more in T&M), pigtailing is not recommended. One connection is always better than two, and a wirenut connection is no better than the dual screw connections on a duplex receptacle (never put 2 hooked wires under one screw though). The other part of that is, if you can't fold 4 or 5 wires each 6 or more inches long connected to a duplex receptacle neatly into a normal size wallcase, you probably shouldn't be doing this kind work.

The simplest explaination of the wiring method this code refers to is where you have two 3-wire cables terminating in a box - 1 feeding in and 1 feeding out to the next box. That's 2 blacks, 2 reds, 2 whites and 2 grounds in the box. The feeding black wire is one circuit on a circuit breaker, the feeding red wire is another circuit on a different circuit breaker and the feeding white wire is the shared neutral for both circuits. When installing a fixture or receptacle at that box on either the red or black circuit, they want you to pigtail the neutral wires to prevent interrupting the other circuit during removal (replacement) of the fixture or device.

Like I said, this is not a wiring method that you're likely to find in a home.

And in the case of a GFCI receptacle, you can't use the load side of a GFCI to protect a downstream circuit with a shared neutral anyway, so you still pigtail the neutrals to abide by the code. However, if there's a downstream circuit from that GFCI that's a 2 wire (1 circuit) offshoot, than since for that portion of the circuit's neutral it's no longer being shared, it isn't required to be part of the pigtailing and you can connect the offshoot to the load side of the GFCI. And that could be anything from a receptacle right next to the GFCI in a 2-gang config or several more fixtures and/or devices.

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    It's actually a wiring method that's extremely common in a home's kitchen countertop outlets, to provide the required 2 20 amp circuits. Rarely seen elsewhere in most houses, I'd agree.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 3:24
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    I used to use mwbc's heavily but as arc fault and GFCI's now have to be just about everywhere I don't use them as much because of nuciance tripping.
    – Ed Beal
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 20:28

We always use pigtails, it doesn't take long to cut/strip a few dozen 6" lengths of black and white 14/2 and fit them to all the outlets while working at a convenient height on a bench. You have to use a marette to join the incoming earth wires to a single one to the earth tab anyway, and 2 more marettes only cost a few cents. We also use boxes with enough volume to allow easy fitting of outlet and cables/marettes in it, it makes fitting the assembly so much easier, rather than cramming wire and outlet etc into a minimum (albeit code conforming) sized box. ;-)

The pigtails make life easier for me (as boss) too, the apprentice lays out the outlets with pigtails as they make them, I can see at a glance if live/neutral are right or reversed, so much easier than crawling along the floor inspecting each one. (I'm 60).. Finally on any job there will be 'down days' when the weather is @@@ or the inspector fails to show etc, just make up more outlets/pigtails for future use, you're paying the crew to sit around otherwise!


I'm an electrical contractor in Northern California. Whether it's code or not, I ALWAYS use pigtails. The reason is simple: It's safer than using the receptacle for daisy-chaining to the next outlet.

In the East Bay, it's not uncommon to see 30 (to 75) year-old receptacles. I have personally seen three instances where the plastic hardened (especially the old bakelite), failed, and a continuous arc resulted between the internal hot and neutral contacts in the receptacle. In these cases, because the arc looked like an ordinary load to the fuse or circuit breaker and lasted for several minutes, the heat caused an electrical fire before the fuse or breaker finally tripped (or blew). (We have an old housing stock here, so AFCI (arc-fault) breakers/receptacles are not yet common.)

Since outlet pig tails and branch circuit feeders are held together with wire-nuts or push-in (e.g. Wago) connectors and the and neutral wires are more physically separate from each other, I regard the pig-tail method of feeding outlets to have a much larger margin of safety than using the receptacle for feeding the next downstream outlet.

  • Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. Great answer, and I hope you keep contributing. Commented May 10, 2018 at 12:58
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    Excellent advice. Daisy-chained outlets are the worst.
    – SDsolar
    Commented May 10, 2018 at 19:51

It's easier to use the screw terminals (or stabbing them in the back, but that's not recommended practice as they will eventually fail) and an intact breakoff tab to chain receptacles together, but if one outlet goes out, all of the receptacles downstream will as well. This is the desired effect when you're talking about a GFCI outlet protecting the entire circuit, but if you're talking about a bedroom, etc. circuit that is not GFCI protected, there isn't much benefit that comes with the disablement of a part of or the entire string (other than it might alert you of the problem quicker.)

The majority of receptacles you'll see out in the wild are wired without pigtails. It's faster and the builders and contractors can't justify several extra hundreds of dollars (mostly labor, of course) just to do pigtails.

  • good point re: one fails, they all fail.
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 23:25
  • Unless the failure is in the binding screws, the backing plate, or the break off tab, how does an outlet failure effect downstream receptacles? Current will pass thru this path regardless of what happens inside the recep.
    – bcworkz
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 0:45
  • The binding screws could be one of the more likely failures as they carry the full current of the circuit and will heat/cool and expand and contract with use. A pigtail has a wire nut carrying the full circuit current and has "teeth" that bite into the copper which is probably more gas tight and resistant to heating. The PSI of a wire nut is much higher than a binding screw so the wire will deform and make an oxide free connection. Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 1:05
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    @bcworkz Some types of failures will cause an outage for all downstream devices, others will not. It depends on the type of failure, but as Philip Ngai has pointed out, the screw terminal, backing plate, etc. is seeing more current, so it will increase the possibility of something going wrong. Stabbing the receptacles in the back is even worse, and it is very likely that you'll have a failure at some point down the road.
    – Michael
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 1:49

Though the NEC does not specifically state that you must use pigtails, it does say that you cannot rely on a device to provide continuity for a neutral (in multiwire branch circuits). By using both terminals on an outlet, you are relying on the device to provide that continuity. The way around it is to simply use pigtails.

NEC 300.13 (B)

"Device Removal. In multiwire branch circuits,the continuity of a grounded conductor shall not depend on device connections such as lampholders, receptacles, and so forth, where the removal of such devices would interrupt the continuity."

(emphasis ours)

So there you go...use pigtails.

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    How does this apply to GFCI protected outlets?
    – mjcopple
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 15:06
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    This only applies to multiwire branch circuits.
    – Tester101
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 16:22
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    IMO, this answer is extremely misleading to a DIY'er. The question specifically mentions home wiring and multiwire circuits are extremely rare in home circuitry. And on that note the final line should read "So there you go...use pigtails.IN MULTIWIRE BRANCH CIRCUITS" which would invalidate the point made with regard to the OP. Also, the entire NEC reference should be made clear before the reference that it is only required in mutliwire branch circuits(which is rare and a critical point!)
    – Damon
    Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 7:19
  • When I read this answer I thought the answerer might be reasoning that if the NEC requires pigtails in MWBC then they must be more reliable in MWBC, and if more reliable there then it's more reliable everywhere. But that's not necessarily the case. The NEC might only be recognizing that a pigtailed connection means the downstream outlets remain connected (in particular they don't lose neutral) when you remove an upstream outlet. Which has nothing to do with reliability. I realize this is an old answer, but here in late 2021 there's still at least one person reading it. So here are two cents :) Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 18:54

Although the official rules don't take this into account, it seems to me that the box will have more "wire fill" with a pigtail. Although this is not a electrical or safety issue, it might affect how easy it is to put the outlet back in the box.


In California, it is code to pigtail wires. As an electrical contractor, I totally agree. If the outlet fails and it is not pigtailed... everything down stream from the outlet will also be affected and lose power. No pigtail sounds like the lazy man's idea on how to wire up something. However, I can not dismiss the argument that a pigtail takes up valuable space in a box and it can also cause problems in itself. I would be a proponent of box manufacturers being forced to make boxes bigger/deeper.

I laugh when I am at home depot and I see someone buying a lot of 2 x 4 handy boxes and some 14-2 romex. I know they are going to go wire up a room with illegal wires for outlets and jam them into this tiny box... because they will save some $20. And yes... they will not pigtail, because look... the outlet has two screws on each side. HEY, there is also a little connection between these two screws that could be cut to allow for dedicated switched outlet operation, or two different circuits... do not use it as continuation of the circuit to another outlet... use a pigtail and use 4" deep boxes with plaster rings for your installations... it gives you more space for the wires and the pigtails... and the cost - relative to having your house burn to the ground with jammed electrical wires - is really not very much more... REALLY! And use nothing but 12-2 for outlet circuits. 12-2 is good for 20 amps; 14-2 for 15. If you put 14-2 in and somehow connect it to a 20 amp breaker... failure means fire. 14-2 is for light circuits... but trust me, use 12-2 also... just in case you ever have to put an outlet on a light circuit.

I have been an electrical contractor in California since 1979. I really know what I am talking about, but of course, it is based on 34 years of working in the field and the laws of California (I am sure other states do not have the same restrictions). I have repaired a few items in homes that DID cause fires, caused by "smart" people who really knew they understood how electricity worked. I loved the three hour troubleshooting charge I had for one client, to figure out why a lot of outlets did not work in their house. I traced it to one of these little connection traces being burnt in half. The outlet where the problem was - worked ... but because they did not know how the house was wired, the rest didn't. It cost them $180.00 to find out that the homeowner himself had installed this outlet and figured that those two screws on each side meant exactly what many "experts" in this link have stated... it's easier to wire up the outlet that way.

So, go ahead and use both screws and no pigtails; I have bills to pay and could use your money to pay for your cheap idea of how to do something. Short cuts are NOT a good idea in wiring... they either cost you a lot in the future, or cause you to find another home after your home burns down. I am not leaving my business card here... I say this because I care, not because I want your business.

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    Can you link to the code that requires pigtails (or quote the text here, or at least mention a reference number or something so folks can look it up)?
    – Tester101
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 16:29
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    I agree with Tester. There is NO code requiring this, unless it is a local amendment. The comment that this is a good practice because an electrician has bills to pay is an over dramatic one. In all my years I have seen a good few receptacles with failed screw terminations. Even more with failed backstabs. That said, I am not getting rich or paying my mortgage by fixing them. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 17:04
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    I'm willing to wager a old wire nut will fail before a screw terminal. I can only think this might be code, if that is infact the case, because California is prone to eartquakes which could, possibly, loosen the screws.
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 7:28
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    I would argue it is actually safer in a way, to have it wired in such a way that if one outlet fails, everything downstream does. The reasoning: why we have smoke detectors on the same breaker as commonly used light(s). You may not always use the outlet that fails, but you'll sure know something is wrong if half the ones in a room stop working.
    – Alex
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 18:04

I'm not sure what the code says about pigtails vs. wire binding terminal screws to provide downstream continuity, but I always use pigtails to continue the circuit to downstream devices (plugs, switches, etc.). It does take more time but thats how I was taught. And by the way in the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) pigtails are not counted in box fill calculations since they neither enter nor leave the device box, but each pair of marrettes used to make those pigtails DO count.

I don't know the rules in the U.S. Typically a receptacle feeding other downstream devices will contain three marrettes, one for each of the insulated conductors (blacks and whites) as well as a marrette for the bare bond wires. The rules say you only count PAIRS of marrettes when calculating box fill, so three marrettes means one pair, and will only count as ONE wire. And that's not much extra to deal with. Also, I prefer using the deepest boxes that will fit. This ensures lots of spare room as well as room for future expansion. Why struggle trying to jam it all in?


I'm not an electrician. But I'm a nerd who has friends who've done forensic electrical engineering work. Here's a different perspective from above.

It's been code for like, ten years now, to use a torque screwdriver to tighten down the wire binding screws on outlets. Some of them take a surprising amount of torque! 18 in/lbs is way more than you think. This became code because Aronstein found countless failures and fires caused by poor threaded fastener binding connections. Many connections made by licensed electricians.

In other places, some have tested electricians in large numbers, and found something like 70% under tighten when done by hand, and 10% overtighten when done by hand.

Using a calibrated tool to apply the specified torque is the only way to ensure (1) the wire makes proper full contact initially, (2) that you make full contact without damaging the threads, and (3) that the connection stays correct for the next fifty years, and while under the extremes of it's uses. If it's under torqued, resistance will always be higher than it should be. If it's under torqued, the screw can definitely slowly loosen over time as thermal cycling from high loads causes the metals to expand and contract. If it's under torqued, you may also not fully penetrate the surface oxides.

If you back wire with pressure plate connections, you face all these problems, but worse, since friction is the only thing holding the wire in place.

If you use trash residential grade receptacles, all of the above problems are magnified greatly. If you use high end spec grade (or even "extra heavy duty hospital grade", as I prefer!), Then you have a tremendous factor.

Apparently, all this is why the code is moving towards pigtailing.

My advice to you, as a non-electrician to a non-electrician: if you're NOT using a torque screwdriver, aren't using high end receptacles, don't have AFCI breakers, and aren't testing the resistance of your outlets with a nice Ideal Circuit Analyzer, then pigtail with a high grade wire nut. You'll probably appreciate this at some point in the future. The ideal Mini Twists are nice for cramped boxes. 3m makes really nice fancy winged ones if you have space. As a non electrician, I find it hard to pretwist the wires without doing more harm than good! The instructions always just say "line em up and twist nut until wires themselves start to twist".

If you're an electrician, just please God go buy a goddamn torque screwdriver, and use it! They're now like forty bucks on Amazon! I've yet to see an electrician use one. It's code. It's also better for your customers. It takes like 3 seconds. I beg you. Do it right!

  • Is there a reason to prefer a wirenut to a lever-style pushin connector? (such as those made by Wago, obviously not the cheap cheesy knockoffs!) Commented Jul 2, 2023 at 1:36
  • @ThreePhaseEel officially? UL says they're both plenty safe. Unofficially? I get nervous with lever style connectors because the wires can wiggle. I don't like that they can wiggle, let alone that you can wiggle them out if you try, and I don't understand why wago and or their competitors don't come out with a version that's wiggle proof! Heck, maybe even a version with an ancillary hold down like a screw grip for the conductor. I continue to be shocked by how well wire nuts hold wires together. Way better than it looks like they should from the outside. Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 5:53
  • @AlexanderRiccio Thank you for this answer. Do you have a reference to the code requiring torque screwdrivers? Both so electricians can refer to it and because code is jurisdiction-specific.
    – depquid
    Commented Jun 16 at 21:21

My personal experience. I plugged in a radiant heater into a 20A receptacle in my garage. It ran for about 3 hours before the breaker tripped. Also a burnt plastic melt smell. The entire garage was dead. I did a LFS (Look for stuff) and noticed the receptacle that the garage door was plugged into had a black soot color coming from under the receptacle cover. I had a very hard time removing the plug from the receptacle as it was melted into the socket. After removing the cover plate I noticed the receptacle was half melted. Remember the heater was not plugged into this ceiling receptacle. It was plugged into a GFCI on the wall. Further checking found the hot (black) wire insulation melted and was shorted to the ground (bare) wire. Replace wire & receptacle and all back to normal and heater ran good. Did notice screw loose connecting the black wire to receptacle when I removed it. To me this is the main reason for using pig tails on all recptacles. This is a new home built in 08' or 09'. We are 1st owners. Also the bedrooms have special GFCI breakers. They have all tripped at one time or another. I plan to redo all receptacle outlets with pigtails because of this possible fire I almost had.

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    This was NOT due to simply using the screw terminals. It was due to poor connections. I have done thousands of receptacles using the screws and have never had a failure. They are clearly rated for the current of the whole circuit. I will also add, I have seen as many failed wire nut connections as I have receptacle termination failures. Also, the AFCI breaker tripping you are experiencing has absolutely nothing to do with the receptacle terminations either, unless of course they are actually arcing. Nuisance tripping is common with that vintage of earlier AFCI breakers. Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 23:00

So you have seen tab failures, along with nut failures? In the 30 years I've been in the industry I've known no other way than to pigtail. If a neutral tab was to break, the outlets downstream from it would go unaffected with pigtailed outlets.

  • 1
    By that same logic, if a neutral pigtail were to break the outlets downstream would be affected as well. I would argue that the probability of a screw terminal vs a wire nut failing is equal.
    – Alex
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 18:18

In Australia and New Zealand, outlets are what Americans call "back wired". The holes have room for two or more wires to be looped through. Wires must be twisted together. In wall power wires can be stranded or solid, but the earth must be stranded. UK sockets are on "ring main", so every socket is expected to have wires feeding into and out of it from both directions.


In the UK, it is common to put up to 3 wires into the same screw terminal; I have never seen pigtails being used to avoid putting 2 wires into a screw terminal. Maybe the screw terminals we have are better able to cope with multiply wires in them.

  • Is it a common mistake, or is that code in the UK?... Either way, don't do that.
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 0:02
  • @Mazura, it is in the UK code, and the socket terminals are design to take 3 wires. The back boxes often do not have space for any connects in them. I would say 95% of UK houses are at least one socket with 3 sets of wires in the terminals.
    – Walker
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 10:19
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    @Mazura The screw terminals Walker is talking about in the U.K. are clamp terminals, not wrap around terminals, and are designed for connecting multiple wires. 100% agree, never use more than one wire with a wrap around screw terminal. Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 23:32

I wan't able to find installation instructions from any of the major receptacle manufacturers. Though I was able to find this video from Leviton (a major manufacturer of electrical devices, in the United States). The video demonstrates how to install a receptacle (there's also a version on YouTube), and clearly shows the installer using both sets of terminals to make the connections.


To me, both methods have 2 connections that can fail. If properly done, they will most likely have the same probability of failing (with terminals being higher in earthquake prone areas).

I can see:

  • terminals/punch-in as being a time saving proposition (commercial or tract housing)
  • pigtails as being a money maker (more time), and a method to allow the circuits/wiring at individual receptacles to be energized and tested before the finish work

with both if the connection fails downstream outlets are affected.


To pigtail or not... that is the question. As a Master/Electrical Contractor I avoid using pigtails when I can. I perfer to put wires under screws. I have never had a outlet failure in 30+ years of contracting that I installed. But I always use high quality material. I have seen wire nuts fail due to poor installation. They usually melt. I've seen them fall off wires. I have seen outlets get over heated by dumb people overloading outlets. I have replaced cheap outlets that failed with high quality outlets. Personal preference, no pigtails. In my opinion, it adds cost to a job, time, and introduces a potential failure point in a circuit.


I have never seen a pigtail of wires in a box with a receptacle. The outlet is always used to tie lines together. I think the advantage is reliability.


Having been a certified electrician in california for 10 years, the first thing they teach you in a union apprenticeship is that pigtails save you on future call backs. The reasoning is this, most receptacles are only rated for 15AMP, and wirenuts are rated for at least 20 on yellows, or greys and probably 30 on reds. So your passthrough is the same as the wire itself. Receptacles are a weak point, meaning that they get torqued, and slammed and pulled. You don't want that to be your splice point. You want your splice on wirenuts, many times receptacles have razor blade stab in's which work well in a time pinch, but not when you are relying on them to carry 20 AMPs to the next 5 receptacles. If you do use receptacle screws, Don't use the stab in holes at least.

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    Disappointing that your union apprenticeship would tech you incorrect things. A 15A duplex receptacle is most definitely rated for 20A feed-through. A 15A duplex is TWO 15A receptacles on one yoke. The whole device is not rated for only 15A. ....... Using the side screws of a duplex receptacle is perfectly safe and reliable. Not making good connections is what causes failures. In fact, in all my years I have seen as many wire nut failures as I have device connection failures. ..... Also, wire nuts are NOT amperage rated, I'm not sure who told you they were. Wire nuts are rated for wire size. Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 22:48

One method is the feed-through: uses the receptacle to carry on the circuit elsewhere and the receptacle must be designed to do so (note that not all receptacles allow feed-through), the other method is the pigtail one: wires are twisted inside a wire nut. They are both equally safe if done properly. Regarding the codes: that changes from country to country, for example in North America and UK the use of wirenuts (marrettes) is common but in other European countries marrettes aren't approved. Depending on the country one is in, electrical components are built and tested differently, rules and practices are different (my personal experience is with Canada and Italy for example). Obviously one follows the code that applies to them and inspectors will require whats fitting to the code according to them and their experience.

  • The "grounded conductor" by NEC definition, is the "neutral" conductor. The "grounding", "ground", "equipment ground", etc. refers to the ground (earth) wire.
    – Tester101
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 18:38
  • The grounded conductor is not always the neutral conductor. Nec does not specify that one is the definition of the other. Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 19:50
  • I have seen that it might have been changed to "circuit conductor" in 2014?(Sioux Falls City publication where they want pigtails all the time) Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 20:01
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    The grounded conductor is most certainly NOT a "ground" or a grounding conductor as you state, and IS most often the neutral conductor. A grounding conductor is either a conductor ultimately terminated at the main bonding jumper in the case of an equipment ground, or in the case of a grounding electrode conductor ultimately connected to the grounding electrode system. Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 21:16
  • I've removed the comment on the other answer; that's not what answers are for. Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 22:44

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