While translating a technical document I began thinking about socket and outlet. It seems like they're mostly interchangeable. Is that correct? Or is there a difference between the two?

The other answers are being too specific. A socket is something into which something is plugged or fitted (also called a receptacle). An outlet is something that something comes out of.

A light socket is called a light socket because a light bulb is inserted into it. A power outlet is called an outlet because power comes out of it. It could conceivably be called a power socket but this is not usual and is possibly confusing.

Neither of these examples is intended to imply the power doesn't come out of a light socket or that a plug isn't plugged into a power outlet. Those are facts but not related to the terms in question themselves.

If you are in any doubt that context is not enough, just use light socket and power outlet.

  • +1. This is the correct answer; There are outlets that are not sockets (There's several from the local sewer) and sockets that aren't outlets (particularly if you like putting together cheap furniture). – user867 Jan 6 '14 at 6:26
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    Good answer, although I'd use "fitted", not "plugged" to describe the general meaning of "socket" - for example, an eye fits into an eye socket, but I wouldn't describe it as "plugged in". – augurar Apr 23 '14 at 6:34
  • @ Ziv, if we ever see you again, perhaps you'd like to accept this answer? – ThePopMachine Mar 7 '17 at 15:26

In British English, 'socket' is the word that normally describes the place in the wall where you put a plug to connect to the electricity supply. 'Outlet' might conceivably be used in some technical contexts, but it has other meanings too and could be ambiguous.

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    In American English, both 'outlet' and 'socket' are used to describe this. I believe the usual adjectives for these words are 'electrical outlet' and 'wall socket'. For other uses of these words, they are usually not interchangeable. – Peter Shor Sep 18 '11 at 13:44
  • If you are referring to an electrical power receptacle, at least in the US, socket and outlet both apply, they just refer to different aspects or characteristics. It is a socket in the sense that it is the receptacle into which you insert a plug. It is an outlet in the sense that electricity comes out. Some people call it a "wall socket", some call it a "wall outlet" or "power outlet". Outlet is probably used more frequently. – fixer1234 Apr 25 '17 at 3:05

In American English and when speaking about electrical circuits and devices, a "socket" is something into which a light bulb is screwed, while an "outlet" is something into which electrical cords are plugged.

Light socket: Electrical outlet:

  • Further to other comments relating to BrE terms for these things the fitting into which a bulb is fitted is called a "bulb holder" in BrE and the term "light socket" doesn't exist in normal usage. – BoldBen Apr 25 '17 at 10:59

This really does depend on your dialect. This is the first time I have seen this meaning of outlet. I've never heard it before. So if you're writing for a British or Irish audience, socket is your only option.

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    For BrE or IrE, is that because 'outlet' doesn't mean anything at all or because it means something else entirely? – Mitch Apr 5 '12 at 16:56
  • @Mitch. It is used, as a general word meaning "somewhere something comes out of". I'd understand power outlet, but I'd expect it to refer to some unusual power outlet, such as those used on building sites. Using that phrase to refer to a normal socket would seem quite odd. – TRiG Apr 5 '12 at 17:02

If you're talking about the endpoint of a logical network connection (such as Berkeley sockets), only the term 'socket' is used. These are never called 'outlets'. Only physical endpoints are ever called 'outlets'.

The official designation in Australia used to be "General Purpose Outlet" (GPO). However, the official designation is NOW "Socket Outlet".

protected by tchrist Feb 22 '15 at 0:14

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