Square Waves

On an oscilloscope, a square wave looks like a pair of parallel, dashed lines, one with positive polarity and the other with negative polarity (Following Fig. A). The oscilloscope shows a graph of voltage on the vertical scale and time on the horizontal scale. The transitions between negative and positive for a theoretically perfect square wave would not show up on the oscilloscope, because they would be instantaneous. But in practice, the transitions can often be seen as vertical lines (Following Fig. B). True square waves have equal negative and positive peaks. Thus, the absolute amplitude of the wave is constant. Half of the time it’s +x, and the other half of the time it’s −x (where x can be expressed in volts, amperes, or watts).

At A, a perfect square wave; the transitions are instantaneous and therefore do not show up on the graph. At B, the more common rendition of a square wave, showing the transitions as vertical lines.

Some squared-off waves are lopsided; the negative and positive amplitudes are not the same. Still others remain at positive polarity longer than they remain at negative polarity (or vice versa). These are examples of asymmetrical square waves, more properly called rectangular waves.