Plugs and sockets tend to differ between countries. Though many different standards exist the vast majority have one thing in common: The pins (earth included) are attached to the plug.

However this is typically not the case in Europe. The French type E plug has an earth pin on the socket while the German type F (Schuko) has two earth clips. The Schuko standard dates back to the 1920s and just by looking at it you can tell that a lot of thought has been put into the design (and at least one patent by Siemens) .

What are the reasons for avoiding an earth pin on the plug? Or put differently; what are the gains of the added complexity of the Schuko?

While type E/F systems are very safe when used consistently, earthed E/F-plugs may unknowingly be used with some unearthed sockets (eg type C and K).


3 Answers 3


I suspect you are talking about the difference between these two

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TL;DR: Type F is more usable, while type E has more safety prone features

Type F advantages

The main benefit of the F type is that it can be used at any orientation. So you can approach in two directions which are equivalent.

Analogy to USB An analogy to a more ubiquitous pattern is the USB Type A and B compared to type C. I don't know about you but I've had a few times the problem of trying to plug in a USB type A socket to a computer and then I had to turn it around (and then again around because I did it correct the first time, but the angle that I approach it was wrong). With type C that problem does not exist.

Another comparative benefit of the type F, is that the absence of the pin, makes it more easy to fit non standard plugs type C Plugs. (I've come across -once admittedly- slightly thicker type C that did not fit inside).

Type E advantages

enter image description here

The advantage of type E over type F, IMHO, lies in:

  • the manufacturer's side, in the sense that it is less costly to create the plug.
  • the pin acts as a more robust interface for the ground (while in type F, it is possible to damage the earth clips of the socket).

Safety points

Standard implementation

The first safety point, is that type E compared to type F, can make the implementation of installation standards easier to adhere to. (it took me a while to think about this).

The reason is that one pin is neutral (N) and the other one is live (L), in the case of Schuko because you can approach the plug from different orientations, and you are allowed to plug it in both directions, there is not much point for the electrician to connect the L and N in a specific position.

However, in the case of the E type, because the earthed type devices will need to be approached in a specific manner, the electrician can always put the (L) in the same position with respect to the pin (I don't know if they do in those countries, but I suspect that they do). So, basically, if you know the standard (and even if there is no colour coding) you can tell which one is the Line and which is the neutral.

Using pin as a key

From a safety point of view, (although I am not 100% certain it is actually used often), is that the pin at type F, can be used to make accessible the pin plugs. I've seen that occurring in places with UPS supported systems. Basically to protect the UPS from a poorly connected device, they require use the earth pin as a way to "unlock" the other two pins. Since, I live in a country that uses F type, I don't know if this is actually used.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Actually I meant to ask why type E/F differs from other types. Neither type E nor F have an earth pin on the plug - why not? It seems to be a deliberate choice. $\endgroup$
    – user32899
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ I see, you are talking e.g about type B/D versus E and F. To be honest, I don't see many differences in having the pin on the plug, or on the socket. The only real benefit I see (which is arguable), is that probably in the large scale of things, it is more economical to have the added pin (which is safe) on the socket, because usually there are more devices than plugs in the house. So, you might be making a more environmently friendly option with type E and F. $\endgroup$
    – NMech
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ if you are talking about C, then I think the point is the compromise between compatibility between standards and robustness in usability. Although the earth pin is a definite safety feature, there are devices that are safe for usage even without being earthed. $\endgroup$
    – NMech
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 13:53

I now have an answer - and it is shocking! Source: https://www.plugsocketmuseum.nl/Schuko-origin.html (impressive article btw)

It turns out that type F (Schuko) and most likely also type E are deliberately designed to allow earthed plugs in unearthed sockets (such as type C). This explains why the plugs don’t have three pins.

I suppose this compatibility was deemed necessary in order to gain marked tracktion in the early days of “earthing”. Getting rid of all the unearthed sockets would likely take a generation or two, and in order to promote the production of earthed appliances this was a convenient compromise.

In either case; what I consider a potential hazard (earthed plugs in unearthed sockets) is really a(n outdated) feature!


The fundamental principle in designing Schuko and grounding in European countries is that the location, not the device determines the need for grounding. The principle of was that in dangerous locations (bathrooms, kitchens, outside etc.) devices had to be grounded. In other places grounding was not allowed as that would make the location dangerous and mandate that everything was grounded.

The above ruled out a pin in the plug (unless the plug was completely different and incompatible) as that would not prevent inserting an ungrounded plug in a grounded socket. On the other hand there was no reason to prevent inserting a grounded plug into an ungrounded socket. It would act just like any ungrounded device used in that socket.

If you look at a schuko socket you see plastic "guides" on the sides. Why are they there? A plug foes not need such guides. Their only purpose is to block an unguided plug. Without them one might push the grounding springs to the side with force. Later hen double insulated devices came the used plugs (the europlug and the contour plug) specifically designed to fit schuko sockets. The grounding prong in the french socket does the same thing.

The principle of using grounded sockets in dangerous locations and ungrounded in safe ones lasted long in many European countries, from the 1930s to the 90s thogh some like Germany mandated grounding already around 1970 on all sockets.

The system had problems. It was not always easy to keep ground out of the safe rooms. Radiators were always a problem (unless they were direct electric heaters in which case one just did not ground them). Television antennas or cable connections were grounded and if one then connected a PC to that it became grounded. In the end it was better just to ground everything. There were also compatibly issues especially in the 1970s. Later double insulation solved them. For example our TV had an ungrounded plug (even thogh it was made in Germany). The TV corner had tile floor which mandated a grounded socket. It was solved with an illegal extension cord that removed the grounding. A proper solution would have to have n electrician to ground the TV.


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