A protective earth (PE) connection ensures that all exposed conductive surfaces are at the same electrical potential as the surface of the Earth, to avoid the risk of electrical shock if a person touches a device in which an insulation fault has occurred. It ensures that in the case of an insulation fault (a "short circuit"), a very high current flows, which will trigger an overcurrent protection device (fuse, circuit breaker) that disconnects the power supply.
A functional earth connection serves a purpose other than providing protection against electrical shock. In contrast to a protective earth connection, a functional earth connection may carry a current during the normal operation of a device. Functional earth connections may be required by devices such as surge suppression and electromagnetic interference filters, some types of antennas and various measurement instruments. Generally the protective earth is also used as a functional earth, though this requires care in some situations.