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in electricity, capability of a body, system, circuit, or device for storing electric charge. Capacitance is expressed as the ratio of stored charge in coulombs to the impressed potential difference in volts. The resulting unit of capacitance is the faradfarad
[for Michael Faraday], unit of electrical capacitance, equivalent to 1 coulomb of stored charge per volt of applied potential difference.
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 [for Michael FaradayFaraday, Michael
, 1791–1867, English scientist. The son of a blacksmith, he was apprenticed to a bookbinder at the age of 14. He had little formal education, but acquired a store of scientific knowledge through reading and by attending educational lectures including, in
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]. In an electric circuit the device designed to store charge is called a capacitorcapacitor
or condenser,
device for the storage of electric charge. Simple capacitors consist of two plates made of an electrically conducting material (e.g., a metal) and separated by a nonconducting material or dielectric (e.g.
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. An ideal capacitor, i.e., one having no resistance or inductance, may be spoken of as a capacitance. When an alternating current flows through a capacitor, the capacitor produces a reactance that resists the current (see impedanceimpedance,
in electricity, measure in ohms of the degree to which an electric circuit resists the flow of electric current when a voltage is impressed across its terminals.
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). While every element of a circuit has some capacitance, it is a goal of good design to reduce such unwanted or stray capacitance to a minimum.
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The ratio of the charge q on one of the plates of a capacitor (there being an equal and opposite charge on the other plate) to the potential difference v between the plates; that is, capacitance (formerly called capacity) is C = q/v.

In general, a capacitor, often called a condenser, consists of two metal plates insulated from each other by a dielectric. The capacitance of a capacitor depends on the geometry of the plates and the kind of dielectric used, since these factors determine the charge which can be put on the plates by a unit potential difference existing between the plates.

In an ideal capacitor, no conduction current flows between the plates. A real capacitor of good quality is the circuit equivalent of an ideal capacitor with a very high resistance in parallel or, in alternating-current (ac) circuits, of an ideal capacitor with a low resistance in series. See Capacitor, Dielectric materials

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Physics. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a quantitative measure of a conductor’s ability to hold an electric charge. In an electrostatic field, all points of a conductor are at the same potential φ. If infinity is taken as the zero point for potential, φ is proportional to the charge q on the conductor; that is, the ratio of q to φ is not a function of q. The capacitance C of an isolated conductor is equal to the ratio of the charge on the conductor to the conductor’s potential: C = q/φ. Thus, the greater the capacitance, the greater the charge that can be stored by the conductor at a given φ.

Capacitance is determined by the size and shape of a conductor and by the electrical properties of the surrounding medium, that is, by the medium’s dielectric constant. Capacitance does not depend on the material of the conductor. Specifically, in the centimeter-gram-second (cgs) electrostatic system, the capacitance of a conducting sphere in vacuo is equal to the radius of the sphere. Since the potential of a conductor also depends on the electric fields created by the charges induced in the surrounding bodies as a result of electrostatic induction, the presence of bodies near a conductor changes its capacitance. Capacitance is measured in centimeters in the cgs system and in farads (1 farad = 9 × 1011 cm) in the International System of Units (SI).

The concept of capacitance applies not only to a single conductor but also to systems of conductors. It applies in particular to a system of two conductors that are separated by a thin dielectric layer. Such a system is called a capacitor. The capacitance of a capacitor is expressed by the equation C = q/(φ1 – φ2). where q is the charge on one plate, –q is the charge on the other plate, and φ1 – φ2 is the potential difference between the plates. The capacitance of a capacitor is virtually independent of the presence of surrounding bodies and can be very high in capacitors with small dimensions.


Tamm, I. E. Osnovy teorii elektrichestva, 9th ed. Moscow, 1976. Chapter 1.
Kalashnikov, S. G. Elektrichestvo, 4th ed. (Obshchii kurs fiziki). Moscow, 1977.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The ratio of the charge on one of the conductors of a capacitor (there being an equal and opposite charge on the other conductor) to the potential difference between the conductors. Symbolized C. Formerly known as capacity.
In a closed feedwater heater, the volume of water required for proper operation of the drain control valve.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


The quantitative measure of the electric-energy storage capability of a capacitor; usually measured in farads or microfarads (10-6 farads).
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. Electronics the property of a system that enables it to store electric charge
2. a measure of this, equal to the charge that must be added to such a system to raise its electrical potential by one unit.
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


The property of a capacitor or other device to hold a charge. It is measured in Farads (F). See Farad.
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