A graphic illustrating a potentiometer. The circuit symbol and a simple diagram of its connections are shown and labelled.

  • An instrument for measuring an electromotive force by balancing it against the potential difference produced by passing a known current through a known variable resistance.
  • A variable resistor with a third adjustable terminal. The potential at the third terminal can be adjusted to give any fraction of the potential across the ends of the resistor.
  • A potentiometer, informally a pot, is a three-terminal resistor with a sliding or rotating contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider.  If only two terminals are used, one end and the wiper, it acts as a variable resistor or rheostat.
  • The measuring instrument called a potentiometer is essentially a voltage divider used for measuring electric potential (voltage); the component is an implementation of the same principle, hence its name.
  • Potentiometers are commonly used to control electrical devices such as volume controls on audio equipment. Potentiometers operated by a mechanism can be used as position transducers, for example, in a joystick. Potentiometers are rarely used to directly control significant power (more than a watt), since the power dissipated in the potentiometer would be comparable to the power in the controlled load.

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