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?

  • please accept the right answer!
    – Millemila
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 17:55

6 Answers 6


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.

I want to add one more comment, eight years later. It's also not usual to call the thing that's installed in your wall a receptacle. In this context, usually the speaker is referring the literal piece of equipment installed there that receives the plug. In other words, you're mostly talking about what the form of the thing is (a hole for a plug) and not what it does (outputs power).

  • +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
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 6:26
  • 1
    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
    Commented Apr 23, 2014 at 6:34
  • @ Ziv, if we ever see you again, perhaps you'd like to accept this answer? Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 15:26
  • In your edit, did you mean 'receptable' or 'receptacle'?
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 20:56
  • Actually (at least in the US) the term "outlet", "socket", and "receptacle" are all distinct and have a specific meaning in the electrical trade. An "outlet" is the location that can have one or more power jacks. Each individual jack is a "receptacle". A "socket" is actually where a device is inserted: usually a light bulb (but it can be a microchip or some other device, on circuit boards.)
    – TomXP411
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 0:10

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.

  • 7
    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. Commented Sep 18, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 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:

  • 3
    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
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 10:59
  • To add to this: each of the individual jacks on that outlet are "receptacles." The term "outlet" is the combined unit that has two (or more) receptacles on it.
    – TomXP411
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 0:14

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.

  • 2
    For BrE or IrE, is that because 'outlet' doesn't mean anything at all or because it means something else entirely?
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 16:56
  • 2
    @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
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 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".

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.