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We are replacing a light fixture and I removed the old one and am having trouble understanding the grounding here.

There are 3 twisted together copper wires up there that you can see in the photo.

Are these the grounding? Or is the fixture itself grounded?

enter image description here

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There are 3 twisted together copper wires up there that you can see in the photo.

Yes the bare copper wires are the ground wires.

You will connect the ground from your fixture to them. It appears there at least 3 of them so you will need a larger wire nut, a red one for 3 wires or a green one for 4 wires. (Wire nuts are color coded by size, you will probably need the green)

Or is the fixture itself grounded?

Fixtures are only grounded when they are connected to the grounding of the electrical system of the building.

Twist on wire connectors Wiki.

Per Ed Beal's comment:

It difficult to see if the box is connected to the ground wires. If not you can use the Greenie, it a green wire nuts with a hole in it for a single wire. That single wire can then be attached to a screw on the box. You can find YouTube videos on how to use them.

If a metal box is grounded as it should be then depending on how the fixture is set up it will determine how the ground connection is completed. You may need to attach the ground wire from the fixture to a screw in the box or it may have its ground wire connected to its mounting bar and that bar will be touching the metal box, thereby making the ground connection.

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  • Yes the 3 bare wires are the grounding conductors Code requires metal boxes to be grounded the grounds should be tied to the box then depending on the fixture and grounding requirements of the OEM an additional ground to the fixture itself may not be required. – Ed Beal Jan 24 at 19:03
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Since the box is metal, the cables supplying/forwarding ground must ground to the metal box. Fullstop.

The box provides a hole tapped #10-32 for a ground screw. It may have more than one such hole. You can also add them (they must be tapped 8-32 or 10-32).

It is a common novice mistake, and a code violation, to remove the wires from the metal box and attach it to the fixture.

If the lamp is built in a way that it will pick up grounding via the mounting screws, then you're all set. Note that does not work for pendants and chandeliers which also need to bring ground down a chain or cord. For that, the ground wire must be also attached to the metal box, either by adding it to the wire nut, or using another ground screw, or by a ground clip to the edge of the box.

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