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In North American practice, an overhead cable from a transformer on a power pole to a residential electrical service usually consists of three twisted (triplexed) conductors, with one being a bare neutral conductor, with the other two being the insulated conductors for both of the two 180 degree out of phase 120 V line voltages normally supplied. The neutral conductor is often a supporting "messenger" steel wire, which is used to support the insulated Line conductors.
The environment of the installed wires determine how much current a cable is permitted to carry. Because multiple conductors bundled in a cable cannot dissipate heat as easily as single insulated conductors, those circuits are always rated at a lower "ampacity". Tables in electrical safety codes give the maximum allowable current based on size of conductor, voltage potential, insulation type and thickness, and the temperature rating of the cable itself. The allowable current will also be different for wet or dry locations, for hot (attic) or cool (underground) locations. In a run of cable through several areas, the part with the lowest rating becomes the rating of the overall run.
Modern non-metallic sheathed cables, such as (US and Canadian) Types NMB and NMC, consist of two to four wires covered with thermoplastic insulation, plus a bare wire for grounding (bonding), surrounded by a flexible plastic jacket. Some versions wrap the individual conductors in paper before the plastic jacket is applied.
US single-phase residential power distribution transformer, showing the two insulated "Line" conductors and the bare "Neutral" conductor (derived from the earthed center-tap of the transformer). The distribution supporting cantenaries are also shown.
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