Which Is The Correct Term? Receptacles, Electrical Outlets or Electrical Plugs?

We all have heard this electrical devices go by different names such as: receptacles, electrical outlets and electrical plugs. The truth is all the above terms have been adopted over time and are constantly interchanged but that does not necessary make it correct. Receptacle is the correct way to refer to the actual electrical device. This device is used on the daily basis. Electrical appliances are plugged into outlets to bring them to life. Such a simple device but makes the world of difference in comfort. Having the right amount of receptacles distributed throughout a home has never been more important in this day and age. Our Sharp Electric electricians can help bring comfort to your living space by adding electrical receptacles where you most need them.

 10 Different Types of Receptacles Found in a Residence?

1- Duplex & Single Receptacle

2- Outlet & USB Charger Combination

3- Electrical Outlet & Night Light Combination

4- Receptacle & Single Pole Switch Combination

5- GFCI Receptacle

6- GFCI Outlet & Single Pole Switch

7- NEMA 6-20R Outlet

8- NEMA 14-30R Receptacle

9- NEMA 14-50R Outlet

10- GFCI & AFCI  Dual Function Outlet


The electrical receptacles in a home which are utilized to energize the majority of the appliances come in different sizes and types. The general purpose electrical outlets around the home that can support up to two appliances being plugged in at a time are called duplex plugs. Here is an image of what a duplex outlet looks like:

electrical outlet, electrical plug, electrical receptacle

Another type of general purpose receptacle found in the home is the single device electrical outlet. This type of electrical outlet is generally installed in scenarios where the electrical outlet is not meant to be shared with more than one appliance. This single electrical plug in commonly used for microwaves, furnaces, water softeners to mention a few. If you still can’t picture in your mind what this electrical plug looks like here is a picture:

single electrical plug, electrical receptacle, electrical outlet

How to Quickly Differ a 20A Rated Receptacle from 15A Rated Receptacle

One more detail I would like to share is of an easy way to differ a 15A rated electrical outlet from a 20A rated electrical receptacle. 20A plugs can be tell apart from 15A rated outlets by the side ways T on the left slot. Below is the comparison of the two:

15A Rated Electrical Receptacle

electrical outlet, electrical plug, electrical receptacle

15A receptacles are mainly use for general purpose electrical outlets throughout the home. 15 amp rated receptacles are generally found in all rooms of a home in exception for sometimes in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, garages.

20A Rated Electrical Receptacle

Duplex 20A Electrical outlet, plug, receptacle

20A rated electrical receptacles are utilized in scenarios where appliances require a higher demand of power to operate. Here is a list of a few residential appliances that should be plugged into a 20 amp rated electrical outlet: furnace, microwave, dishwasher, curling iron, hair blow dryer to mention a few.

Before we move on to a different style of receptacle I would like to cover basic details & frequently asked questions that will be useful  when becoming a homeowner. A common outlet question is can a 15 amp rated appliance be plugged into a 20 amp outlet? Absolutely, but a 20 amp rated appliance cannot be plugged into a 15 amp rated receptacle. If you need a refresher on why it isn’t possible please click here to learn the differences between a 15 amp & a 20 amp receptacle. Standard electrical outlets are not electronic devices. They do no have circuit boards inside of them that can fail and finally they are not serviceable as they come sealed from the manufacture and should be replaced at the first sign of wear. The only electronic receptacle/outlet that has existed for the longest is the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter duplex receptacle or GFCI outlet for short  which we will discuss later. Modern duplex outlets are constructed of a front and rear hard plastic, brass internal contacts & side terminals and lastly everything is held together by a metal backbone.

duplex outlet front & back views
duplex receptacle without front face
Disassembled duplex receptacle

How to choose the correct outlet when replacing them?

I have had a lot of homeowners ask me this and the answer is very simple. All electrical outlets have a (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) / NEMA identification number. This NEMA number differentiates all the outlets styles and ratings being manufactured.

NEMA receptacle identification chart

Duplex Outlet & USB Combination

duplex receptacle & USB charger combination

As you can see on the above image this outlet is now available at your nearest hardware store. This combination receptacle is great for bedrooms specifically the outlets next to the night stands which is where 95% of the time cellphones are plugged into to be charged over night. Another locations that I have had a lot of request for installations are in is living rooms, family rooms, kitchen counter top area and bathrooms. Now I know what you are thinking but lucky for all of us the manufactured thought about everything and the duplex outlet & USB charger combo is GFCI compatible which means that it can be installed down stream from any GFCI receptacle or GFCI circuit breaker.

Receptacle & Night Light Combination

duplex receptacle with built in night light feature

The name says it all. This is a two in one device serving as a duplex receptacle & night light. Where can this revolutionary device be used? It can be used anywhere in the home some examples are bathrooms, hallways and bedrooms. This neat duplex outlet and night light combo comes in a variety of colors, it is compatible with both GFCI & Arc-Fault protected circuits and finally it comes with the tamper resistant/child proof  feature so that your little ones are always protected.

Outlet & Switch Combo vs GFCI Outlet & Switch Combo

receptacle & switch combo
GFCI outlet & switch combination

This outlet & switch combo can be found in both newer and older homes. When utilized on newer built I have generally seen them outdoors and its purpose was to power a water feature. The switch is utilized to energize and d-energize the outlet on the same device and finally the water feature is plugged into the receptacle. In older homes this outlet & switch combo is used in bathrooms. The switch portion of the device controls the bathroom light and the receptacle serves as a general purpose outlet. Here is a very important piece of information before you decide to use this combo device on either of the two scenarios mentioned above. Make sure the circuit you plan to utilize this combination device on is GFCI protected by means of a GFCI outlet or GFCI circuit breaker. But what if their is no GFCI protection what do you do then? Installing a GFCI receptacle & Switch combo is the solution. This device will perform the same functions as the previously mentioned but will provide the necessary GFCI protection.

GFCI Outlet

GFCI outlet 20 amp

GFCI protection has been around since the 70’s. For those that do not know the purpose of a GFCI outlet, what this special outlet looks like and finally where it can be found in a residence here it is in a nut shell. The purpose of GFCI protection is to protect us humans and pets from the possibility of electrical shock. This device might look like any other outlet at first glance but it actually has two distinctive buttons in the middle. These buttons are to safely test the device every month as well as to reset it the case of it ever being tripped. GFCI outlets can be expected to be found at the following places in a residence. All kitchen counter top areas, wet bars, bathrooms, garages, attics spaces, pool light installations and finally anywhere in the exterior of the home including the roof.

20 amp 250V NEMA 6-20R (Central Vacuum System)

250v 20A single outlet

Personally I have only seen NEMA 6-20R receptacles used in a residential scenario to power a 240V central vacuum systems.

Electric Dryer Receptacles

NEMA 14-30R

NEMA 10-30R

NEMA 10-30R Dryer Outlet

The NEMA 14-30R receptacle is what is presently being installed in all the new construction homes now its predecessor the NEMA 10-30R receptacle is still around and can be found in older constructions.

Electric Range Outlets

NEMA 14-50R

NEMA 14-50R range outlet

NEMA 10-50R

NEMA 10-50R range outlet

The NEMA 14-50R range receptacle is what is presently being installed in all the new construction homes but its predecessor the NEMA 10-50R receptacle is still around and can be found in older constructions.

AFCI & GFCI Dual Function Outlet

AFCI & GFCI Dual Function Outlet

This revolutionary new device has come in strong and is here to stay. With the 2014 national electrical code adopting this new device all kitchen counter top receptacles as well as outlets in laundry areas must be arc-fault and  GFCI protected. AFCI protection is intended to prevent electrical fires caused by electrical arcs. Electrical arcs originate from loose electrical connections and can start an electrical fire.

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Duplex & Single Receptacle


Outlet & USB Charger Combination


Electrical Outlet & Night Light Combination


Receptacle & Single Pole Switch Combination


GFCI Receptacle


GFCI Outlet & Single Pole Switch


NEMA 6-20R Outlet


NEMA 14-30R Receptacle


NEMA 14-50R Outlet


GFCI & AFCI  Dual Function Outlet