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Why does the current lead the voltage in a capacitor?

Answer: The reason that current leads voltage in a capacitor is rooted in the way a capacitor works. Picture the capacitor. It's basically two conductive plates separated by a short distance and having a dielectric (insulator) between them. Now, let's specify that our cap (capacitor) is completely discharged and we'll hook it up to a DC voltage source through a switch. Flip the switch on and current will begin to flow, but it is important to look at what happens in just the first instant of time. Electrons will begin to accumulate on the negative plate and their presence there will drive electrons off the positive plate. The capacitor is building up a charge. It is developing a voltage across (or between, if you prefer) the plates. But electrons have to begin to pile onto the plate to actually create the difference of potential (voltage) between the plates. The moving electrons (and that's current) that are piling on the plate are already beginning to flow before the voltage is developed between the plates, so current is said to lead voltage in a capacitor.

In a capacitor, the current flowing in it depends on the voltage difference across it. On AC, this makes it charge if the voltage is increasing above zero, and discharge if the voltage is reducing towards zero. Because a capacitor has almost no internal resistance, and most loads that it is connected to have only very small resistances in series with the capacitor, the charging and discharging currents depend pretty much on the rate at which the voltage is changing. At the zero crossing point of the sine-wave, when the voltage is actually zero, the rate of change of voltage is very high (the sine-wave is at its steepest), so the current is also very high. If the voltage is positive-going, the current is positive, and if the voltage is negative-going, the current is negative. At the peak of the voltage waveform, the rate of change of voltage is zero or very low (the sine-wave is just about flat, and not really changing its voltage) so the current is zero, too. Since the maximum positive current occurs when the voltage is passing through zero, going positive, and the maximum negative current happens when the voltage is passing through zero, going negative, the current peaks happen 90 degrees before the voltage peaks, so the current is said to lead the voltage. This is the same as saying the voltage lags the current by 90 degrees.


Let us deal with the capacitor first. Upon switch on, the plates are not charged so the current is a maximum, after a period of time, the plates charge thereby limiting the current flow. Hence the current leads the voltage. Now for the inductor, this is a little harder. Need to remember that when a conductor is cut by magnetic flux, an induced emf is created. This induced emf

creates an induced current which will flow in the opposite direction to the cause which produced it. (Lenz's law). Upon switch on, the voltage is at a max as the current is being limited by the induced current. After a period of time the current builds up but then the a.c. waveform changes direction so the process starts all over again. Hence, the current lags the voltage. Source(s): None needed

3rd reason
The voltage across a capacitor is proportional to the charge it carries. Current must flow into the capacitor to increase the charge, and as a result, the voltage developed across it rises. Think of the capacitor like an empty bucket, with the level of water representing the voltage. You must add more water before the level (voltage) rises, and so the voltage lags behind the current, or the current leads the voltage. In simple terms, an inductor resists rapid change. You can apply a voltage across it instantly, but it takes time for the magnetic flux to increase, and as it grows, the inductor current rises exponentially from zero. In this instance, as it is the applied voltage which generates the increasing inductor current, the voltage is said to lead the current in an inductor. The finer details are omitted for simplicity; I hope this helps 4 Reason The inductor is initially 'seen' as an open with no current, but the rate of change of current is very high at first. So the initial voltage across the inductor is at its peak when the current starts to get through. As time passes, maximum current is reached and rate of change of current approaches zero. So now the inductor will be like a short with no voltage across it. When the inductor is allowed to 'collapse' its field created by the current, rate of change of current will change quickly again inducing voltage until rate of change of current is zero. It's the opposite of a capacitor.