The Difference Between a Positive & a Negative Charge


A basic force of nature is electricity or electric charges. Electric charges make up the structure of atoms. Depending on the type of electrical charge, the subatomic particle will react in a certain way. This building block of existence is split between two essential charge types: positive and negative charges.

Subatomic Differences

  • Charges exist on the level of the subatomic or the particles that make up atoms. Subatomic particles have an electrical charge attached to them that is either negative or positive. The key to understand these concepts is that the terms "positive" or "negative" offer no qualitative description of the subatomic particle. The terms are used by scientists to differentiate between charges.

How They Are Differentiated

  • Scientists explain that charges are classified by how they repel or attract each other. Similar charges, for example positive and positive charged particles, will repel each other. However, different charged particles, such as positive and negative particles, are attracted to each other. Atoms, the building blocks of matter, are made up of equal amounts of positive particles, called protons, and negative particles, electrons.

Charged Matter

  • Matter is considered totally positively charged or negatively charged when there are more protons or electrons in the atoms of an object. It is much easier for electrons to be removed from an atom since electrons orbit around protons on a subatomic level. Therefore, certain actions, such as friction, causes electrons to be removed from matter, causing the object to be positively charged. The result is an electrical current, with this type of electrical current being static electricity.


  • Atomic particles where electrons orbit relatively closer than seen in nature are called insulators. This means that the electrons are extremely difficult to exchange from an atom. If the electron cannot move away, electrical currents cannot occur. Therefore, this is where insulation on wires comes into play. Plastics on an atomic level have insulator atoms and will stop electrical currents from exchanging electrons with the plastic matter. This is why plastics are used to cover over electrical wires so that people are not shocked by the electrical currents coming from the wires.


  • Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
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