If I have a multimeter, and I put one lead in the hot slot of an electrical outlet, will accidentally touching the other lead complete a circuit and electrocute me?

Likewise, if instead I put one lead in the neutral slot of an electrical outlet, will accidentally touching the other lead complete a circuit and electrocute me?


If the multimeter is set to read voltage, it will have a very high-resistance, so if everything is working correctly touching the other lead will not shock you.

If it's set to read current, it will have almost 0-resistance, so touching the other lead would be equivalent to touching the bare wire. Thus, having the multimeter plugged into the hot-slot and touching the other lead will shock you (but, having it plugged into the neutral won't)

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  • Then it sounds like putting the first lead into neutral is slightly safer. – Anonymous Mar 1 '14 at 4:09
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    Only if the outlet is actually wired correctly. The much safer approach is to use the leads as designed and not touch the metal on either one; and don't leave one plugged into something when you are not actually testing it. – Ecnerwal Mar 1 '14 at 23:45

If you have one lead in hot, yes, touching the other lead would complete the circuit and shock you.

If everything is wired correctly, you would not be shocked in the neutral scenario, however swapping hot/neutral is a pretty common error, so it is not a given that you would want to assume is correct.

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    How much of a shock would depend on what mode the meter is in. If it has a high current ammeter mode, it's going to to hurt... or worse. In AC voltage mode I believe the internal resistance is quite high and there may not be much of a shock. I'm pleased to say I never tested this theory, neither should anyone else unless they really know what they are doing. Just sayin' for the sake of discussion. – bcworkz Feb 28 '14 at 19:14

No. It wouldn't electrocute you unless you were touching ground. I found this out when I was stationed in Taiwan years ago and some locals installed ceiling fans for us. I kept waiting for them to tell me when to turn off the breaker, but they never did. When they came down out of the attic I asked them how they didn't get electrocuted touching hot wires. They told me that they didn't because they were not in contact with ground. But I've never tested this myself: still don't trust touching a hot wire. Better safe than sorry.

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