How to Wire a 3-Wire Light to 2 Wires (Tips & Guide)

I’ll tell you what to do with the remaining wire if you’re trying to connect a 3-wire light to a 2-wire connection.

You might wonder what to do when your light has three wires but the connection point only has two. This is not an uncommon scenario. Perhaps you connect that third wire somewhere, too, but where? Or, perhaps you should leave it? Let’s see.

You usually get three different wires with your light fixture: black, white, and green. Connect the black (hot) wire to the home electrical system’s live supply, which is also a black wire. Likewise, connect the white (neutral) wire to the neutral connection. These two are critical for the light’s operation, but the third wire is there for your safety and protection. So, connect the green (ground) wire to a metallic part of the electrical box.

This short guide details how to connect a 3-wire light to a 2-wire connection.

Safety Precautions

alert sign in red

Before you handle any wiring, turn off the main circuit breaker for that circuit. Using a voltage tester or voltmeter, you can check the circuit to ensure it’s cut off.

Identifying the Three Wires

neutral and hot wires
Video | eztv online

Before doing any electrical work on your main AC supply, it is essential that you can positively identify all three wires and know what each one is for.

You don’t want to misidentify any of the 3 wires or connect them to the wrong points. Otherwise, it could create a short circuit, a serious risk of electric shock, and a fire hazard.

Know the Color Codes

The color codes may differ by country.

In a single-phase domestic electricity supply in the United States:

  • The black wire is the hot wire. It carries electricity from the main electrical panel to the source.
  • The white wire is the neutral wire. It provides the return path for the electricity and a ground connection at the power station.
  • The bare copper or green wire is the ground wire. It serves as an alternative path to a local ground connection for current in case of an emergency.

Wiring a 3-Wire Light to a 2-Wire Connection

Having to wire a 3-wire light to a 2-wire connection is a common scenario.

But it confuses some people about which two wires you should connect to the main electrical supply and what to do with the third one. If you had a basic knowledge of the three wires (hot, neutral, and ground) and their function, you would know exactly what to do.

If you are connecting a 3-wire light to a 2-wire connection:

  • Connect the light fixture’s hot (black) wire to the main supply’s hot wire.
  • Connect the light fixture’s neutral (white) wire to the main supply’s neutral wire.
  • Connect the ground (bare or green) wire to a metallic part of the electrical box to provide a safe ground connection for the light fixture.

The black and white wires are critical for the light to operate. Technically, you can leave the ground wire-free, as the light will still operate without it connected anywhere. But it’s there for a reason.

That reason is safety and protection. So, it’s not recommended to leave or terminate it. Rather, you increase the risk of getting an electric shock by doing so and might also end up damaging the light fixture.

hot, neutral and ground wires on ceiling light
Creative Homeowner, 2007, p. 149 (adapted)

2-Wire and 3-Wire Light Fixtures

The confusion with the extra wire happens because, in many older US homes, you can still find 2-wire light fixtures or a non-grounded main supply.

These 2-wire fixtures come with only the hot and neutral wires, i.e., without a connection point or terminal for the ground wire. You shouldn’t have any trouble connecting the 2 hot and neutral wires to a 2-wire fixture because those are the only 2 terminals you will see.

The non-existent terminal is always for the ground wire, so it’s the only wire that always remains.

A 3-wire light fixture comes with an additional third ground wire and terminal. You simply connect the ground wire to the third terminal for the grounding point. So, you should have no problem in this case.

Importance of the Ground Wire

When wiring a 3-wire light switch to a 2-wire connection, you have two options:

  • Leave the ground wire, i.e., cut it and insulate its end to leave it terminated without connecting it anywhere.
  • Connect the ground wire, which, as you now know, should be to a metallic part of the electrical box.

Some people leave out the ground wire. But this is not good practice. You wouldn’t do this if you knew about its safety role.

The main purpose of the ground wire is to provide an additional safe path for the current to travel. As you know, the neutral (white) wire is the first choice of path for the return current. But during an electricity overload, it may seek an alternative shorter path to travel to the ground. That’s where the ground wire comes in handy.

If the ground wire is not present, the electricity may choose your body as the alternative path, and you’ll get shocked. That’s why the ground wire is very important for safety reasons.

Is it Safe to Not Connect the Ground Wire?

damaged light fixture wiring
Video | eztv online

As I said, the light will still operate without the ground wire connected, but it’s not recommended as it won’t be able to provide safety.

You can get an electric shock when touching the light fixture or even get electrocuted. Also, the light fixture itself might get damaged during an electrical overload without a proper ground connection.

So, always connect the light fixture’s ground wire to a metallic part of the electrical box.

With 3-wire connections, these types of metal electrical boxes will typically be present. So, connect the ground wire to one of the metal box’s screws. It will create a proper ground connection for your light fixture circuit.


Creative Homeowner. Ultimate guide to wiring complete home projects. 6th edition. 2007.

Video Reference

eztv online

How helpful was this article?

Were Sorry This Was Not Helpful!

Let us improve this post!

Please Tell Us How We Can Improve This Article.

About Alex Robertson

c3c9d43f1f0d14c4b73cb686f2c81c4e?s=90&d=mm&r=gCertifications: B.M.E.
Education: University Of Denver - Mechanical Engineering
Lives In: Denver Colorado

Hi, I’m Alex! I’m a co-founder, content strategist, and writer and a close friend of our co-owner, Sam Orlovsky. I received my Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (B.M.E.) degree from Denver, where we studied together. My passion for technical and creative writing has led me to help Sam with this project.

| Reach Me