(power/electric) cord/cable/lead/flex

< Previous | Next >


Senior Member
New Zealand English
Hi there,

Is there a difference between a power cord or cable, an electric cord, cable or lead? Or are they all synonyms for the same thing? (I'm thinking of the cord you use to plug an electrical appliance into a wall socket - like a toaster or a computer!)

Thanks for your help...
  • natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I don't think so - just regional variation. I tend to use flex myself, which I'm aware is BrE. A cable is more general, and does not necessarily have a plug at one end. A lead sounds a little old fashioned to me.


    Senior Member
    USA English
    You might review the extended discussion on this question, more or less.

    See: wire vs cable

    Strictly speaking, the thing you stick into the wall consists of multiple wires (conductors) and as such, it's a cable

    From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_cable)

    A power cable is an assembly of two or more electrical conductors, usually held together with an overall sheath. The assembly is used for transmission of electrical power. Power cables may be installed as permanent wiring within buildings, buried in the ground, run overhead, or exposed.

    On the other hand, popular usage often leaves technical accuracy in its wake and around here, most people call them "power cords." In addition, we have "extension cords" as well, if our "power cords" aren't long enough.

    Just to add to the confusion, things that connect the battery to our automobiles are called "battery cables," even though they each have a single conductor (albeit composed of twisted wires), compared to the two, three or four conductors in a "power cord."

    As they say in the New York area, "go figure" :eek:


    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    I make these distinctions:
    Power cord: permanently attached (soldered internally) to an appliance like an iron, radio, vacuum cleaner.
    Power cable: plug on one end, socket on the other (e.g., computer cable).
    Electric cord or cable: see above.
    Lead: a fine insulated wire used in low voltage/amperage applications.
    I'd be curious to know if anyone else is in agreement.:)


    American English
    I personally use:

    Power/electric cord: May or may not be permanently attached to an object and has a plug at one end. This could be for an iron, vacuum, or toaster, but it could also be a computer cord, which has a plug at one end and a socket at the other, which goes into the computer, or an extension cord, which also has a plug at one end and a socket at the other.

    Cable: Used to connect two electronic devices together, like an AV cable used to hook up a DVD player, cable box, etc., to your TV. For me, a cable is generally not used to supply electricity to a device* unless you're talking about the cables that make up power lines.

    I'm not familiar with lead being used with electronics.

    *Both USB cable and USB cord work for me because it's used to connect an object like an iPhone to a computer to access things on the iPhone (similar to "accessing" the material on a DVD by hooking the player up to your TV with an AV cord), but it also provides electricity to charge the iPhone.


    Sparky Malarky

    English - US
    In computer terms, a power cord is what is plugged into an electrical outlet. Without a power cord your computer won't turn on.
    A cable connects the monitor and keyboard to the CPU, and may connect the CPU to the data jack. Without cables the various parts of your computer won't work together and you will not have internet access. However, if your components are wireless you won't need cables.


    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    To me, "electric cable" would be a reference to the building's wiring. The cables used to connect computers and peripherals wound be "computer cables," "printer cables," &c.

    "Leads" are the wires used to connect test probes to a meter, such as in this picture.


    Senior Member
    << merged with a previous thread (thank you pob14 - see post later in this thread >>
    << Rule 1 Search first >>

    Hi there,

    I looked up "flex" on dictionary.com and in an online Oxford dictionary and it was explained with different words. The American dictionary gave "British.
    any flexible, insulated electric cord; an electric cord or extension cord," and the Oxford one, "a flexible insulated cable used for carrying electric current to an appliance."
    So cord and cable. Is there a preference for either of them in AmE and BrE?

    I looked up "electric cord" in the BNC corpus and got 2 results. Got 13 results for cable.

    Thank you!
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    In US English it depends on what you're using it for. Do you have a specific application in mind?


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'Cable' is a very broad word: it can be the giant steel things holding ships to a wharf, it can be the flattened plastic things connecting computer peripherals, and it could be the technical term for the ordinary electric cord that plugs a kettle into the wall socket, among other uses. But we here wouldn't normally say the kettle or toaster had a cable.


    Senior Member
    What about "data cable" that you use to download stuff from a phone? It's probably one of the exceptions then.


    Senior Member
    Yes, it is...although sometimes we call that a "cord," too, at least informally. If I was asking a salesperson at an electronics store for one, I'd call it a "cable," but if I was talking about it casually ("Where is the cord for my camera?" I had it here just a few minutes ago."), I might very well use "cord" sometimes.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    "Flex", and more colloquially "wire", are probably the commonest BrE terms in the context of appliance connection.

    If I were a BrE dictionary writer looking to define "flex", I'd definitely refer to "cable" rather than "cord".

    Kate, if you asked me "Where is the cord for my camera?", I'd probably look for the thing you use to hang it round your neck or your wrist.:p

    [Edit]: Indeed, pob, that other thread (entirely AmE-driven, apart from one post) discusses "cord/cable'. The OP in the present thread asked about AmE/BrE differences, and about "flex", so there's a slightly new angle here.

    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    Thank you, everyone! It looks like some of you are saying that "cable" is the correct, technical word to use for both the cords attached to an appliance and the cables that connect two devices, in both AmE and BrE. Then some of you, like JustKate, tend to make "cord" the umbrella term in AmE, while others, like Wordsmyth, prefer "cable" as the umbrella term in BrE. This fits with what I noticed in the dictionary entries for BrE "flex."


    New Member
    English - UK
    I know this is an old thread, but I can't find any guidance on this topic anywhere, so I'm replying here.

    I'm interested in the use of these terms more generally - not just for power, but any kind of electrical scenarios (the OP did say "power / electric").

    In my experience (BrE), there's a clear distinction as follows:
    • Cable is an assembly of wire(s), insulators, sheath etc, which may or may not have connectors at the ends. For instance you could have a drum of cable, with no connectors. Or a section of cable might be permanently installed (as in the copper stuff that gets stolen from railways). There are different types of cable e.g. for power, audio, video, digital, etc
    • If a piece of cable has connectors (or plugs) on each end for connecting things together, then it is referred to as a lead
    Cable is often sold by the meter. A lead is a complete accessory ready to plug in, c.f. "guitar lead". As an example of this usage, see the "Cables and Leads" section of Studio Spares - this is mainly an audio-focussed website, but the distinction there is clear.

    However, this distinction is not made consistently in normal usage, and the terms are often used interchangeably. For example, you often see "USB cable" where, I think, USB lead would be more correct (because it has connectors at each end).

    For power scenarios, I think flex is antiquated and sounds something my grandparents might have said. Furthermore you don't hear the term power lead much. More common would probably be power cable, or power cord. So the cable vs. lead distinction seems to apply more in non-power scenarios.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    For power scenarios, I think flex is antiquated and sounds something my grandparents might have said.
    The distinction I'm familiar with in BrE (for "power scenarios") is:

    - the term "cable" (if not further qualified) refers to the rigid or semi-rigid wiring (usually insulated) that's used in power supply circuits, either in building wiring or inside certain equipment, and that, once installed, isn't required to move.

    - the term "flex" (= flexible cable) refers to the supple wiring used to connect equipment to the power supply, where subsequent movement is required. This is what's generally called a (power) cord in AmE.

    In my experience, the term "flex" is commonly used in, for instance, DIY and electrical supplies shops — and not just those staffed by grandparents!;) In general conversation I hear cable, wire, lead, flex, all used pretty interchangeably to refer to flex, and often preceded by the word "mains" rather than "power": "The mains lead needs replacing on my iron". I don't think I've ever heard "power cord" used in BrE, though it seems from what you say that it has arrived in certain circles — essentially for computers, according to a little Google research I've just done.

    < Previous | Next >