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Properties of metals, metalloids and nonmetals

File:Periodic table (metals–metalloids–nonmetals, 32 columns).png
In the periodic table,   metals  fill most of the left and centre sections; a narrow diagonal band of  metalloids  separates them from the   nonmetals  in the upper right corner.

The chemical elements can be broadly divided into metals, metalloids and nonmetals according to their shared physical and chemical properties. All metals have a shiny appearance (at least when freshly polished); are good conductors of heat and electricity; form alloys with other metals; and have at least one basic oxide. Metalloids are metallic-looking brittle solids that are either semiconductors or exist in semiconducting forms, and have amphoteric or weakly acidic oxides. Typical nonmetals have a dull, coloured or colourless appearance; are brittle when solid; are poor conductors of heat and electricity; and have acidic oxides. Most or some elements in each category share a range of other properties; a few elements have properties that are either anomalous given their category, or otherwise extraordinary.

Shared properties


File:Iron electrolytic and 1cm3 cube.jpg
Pure (99.97 %+) iron chips, electrolytically refined, accompanied by a high purity (99.9999 % = 6N) 1 cm3 cube
Main article: Metal

Metals appear lustrous (beneath any patina); form mixtures (alloys) when combined with other metals; tend to lose or share electrons when they react with other substances; and each forms at least one predominately basic oxide.

Most metals are silvery looking, high density, relatively soft and easily deformed solids with good electrical and thermal conductivity, closely packed structures, low ionisation energies and electronegativities, and are found naturally in combined states.

Some metals appear coloured (Cu, Cs, Au), have low densities (e.g. Be, Al) or very high melting points, are liquids at or near room temperature, are brittle (e.g. Os, Bi), not easily machined (e.g. Ti, Re), or are noble (hard to oxidise) or have nonmetallic structures (Mn and Ga are structurally analogous to, respectively, white P and I).

Metals comprise the large majority of the elements, and can be subdivided into several different categories. From left to right in the periodic table, these categories include the highly reactive alkali metals; the less reactive alkaline earth metals, lanthanides and radioactive actinides; the archetypal transition metals, and the physically and chemically weak post-transition metals. Specialized subcategories such as the refractory metals and the noble metals also exist.


Tellurium, described by Dmitri Mendeleev as forming a transition between metals and nonmetals[1]
Main article: Metalloid

Metalloids are metallic looking brittle solids; tend to share electrons when they react with other substances; have weakly acidic or amphoteric oxides; and are usually found naturally in combined states.

Most are semiconductors, and moderate thermal conductors, and have structures that are more open than those of most metals.

Some metalloids (As, Sb) conduct electricity like metals.

The metalloids, as the smallest major category of elements, are not subdivided further.


File:Bromine 25ml.jpg
25 ml of bromine, a dark red-brown liquid at room temperature
Main article: Nonmetal

Nonmetals have open structures (unless solidified from gaseous or liquid forms); tend to gain or share electrons when they react with other substances; and do not form distinctly basic oxides.

Most are gases at room temperature; have relatively low densities; are poor electrical and thermal conductors; have relatively high ionisation energies and electronegativities; form acidic oxides; and are found naturally in uncombined states in large amounts.

Some nonmetals (C, black P, S and Se) are brittle solids at room temperature (although each of these also have malleable, pliable or ductile allotropes).

From left to right in the periodic table, the nonmetals can be subdivided into the polyatomic nonmetals which, being nearest to the metalloids, show some incipient metallic character; the diatomic nonmetals, which are essentially nonmetallic; and the monatomic noble gases, which are almost completely inert.

Comparison of properties

Number of metalloid properties that resemble metals or nonmetals or are reasonably distinct
     Resemble metals        Relatively distinctive     Resemble nonmetals  
Properties compared: (36)   6 (17%) 25  (69%) 5 (14%) 
Physical (20)   4 (20%) 14  (70%) 2 (10%) 
 • Presentation & structure  (10)   2 (20%) 
 • Electronics (6)   1
 • Thermodynamics (4)   1
Chemical (16)   2 (13%) 11  (69%) 3 (19%) 
 • Elemental chemistry (6)   3  (50%) 
 • Combined form chemistry (6)   2
 • Environmental chemistry (4) 

The characteristic properties of metals and nonmetals are quite distinct, as shown in the table below. Metalloids, straddling the metal-nonmetal border, are mostly distinct from either, but in a few properties resemble one or the other, as shown in the shading of the metalloid column below and summarized in the small table at the top of this section.

Authors differ in where they divide metals from nonmetals and in whether they recognize an intermediate metalloid category. Some authors count metalloids as nonmetals with weakly nonmetallic properties.[n 1] Others count some of the metalloids as post-transition metals with weakly metallic properties.[citation needed]

Physical and chemical properties of the three major categories of chemical elements[n 2]
Metals[7] Metalloids Nonmetals[7]
Presentation and structure (top)
Colour nearly all are shiny and grey-white
Cu, Cs, Au shiny and golden[8]
shiny and grey-white[9] most are colourless or dull red, yellow, green, or intermediate shades[10]
C, P, Se, I shiny and grey-white
Reflectivity intermediate to typically high[11][12] intermediate[13][14] zero or low (mostly)[15] to intermediate[16]
Form almost all solid
Rb, Cs, Fr, Ga, Hg liquid at/near stp[17][18][n 3]
all solid[9] most gaseous[20]
C, P, S, Se, I solid; Br liquid
Density generally high, with some exceptions such as the alkali metals[21] lower than neighbouring metals but higher than neighbouring nonmetals[22] often low
Deformability (as a solid) most are ductile and malleable
some are brittle (Cr,Mn,Ga,Ru,W,Os,Bi)[23][n 4]
brittle[26] brittle, when solid
some (C, P, S, Se) have non-brittle forms[n 5]
Poisson's ratio[n 6] low to high[n 7] low to intermediate[n 8] low to intermediate[n 9]
Crystalline structure at freezing point[46] most are hexagonal or cubic
Ga, U, Np orthorhombic; In, Sn, Pa tetragonal; Sm, Hg, Bi rhombohedral; Pu monoclinic
B, As, Sb rhombohedral
Si, Ge cubic
Te hexagonal
H, He, C, N, Se hexagonal
O, F, Ne, P, Ar, Kr, Xe, Rn cubic
S, Cl, Br, I orthorhombic
Packing & coordination number close-packed crystal structures[47]
high coordination numbers
relatively open crystal structures[48]
medium coordination numbers[49]
open structures[50]
low coordination numbers
Atomic radius
intermediate to very large
112–298 pm, average 187
small to intermediate: B, Si, Ge, As, Sb, Te
87–123 pm, av. 115.5
very small to intermediate
31–120 pm, av. 76.4
Allotropes[52][n 10] around half form allotropes
one (Sn) has a metalloid-like allotrope (grey Sn, which forms below 13.2 °C[53])
all or nearly all form allotropes
some (e.g. red B, yellow As) are more nonmetallic in nature
some form allotropes
some (e.g. graphitic C, black P, grey Se) are more metalloidal or metallic in nature
Electronics (top)
Periodic table block s, p, d, f [54] p [55] s, p [55]
Outer s and p electrons few in number (1–3)
except 0(Pd); 4(Sn,Pb,Fl); 5(Bi); 6(Po)
medium number (3–6) high number (4–8)
except 1(H); 2(He)
Electron bands: (valenceconduction) nearly all have substantial band overlap
Bi has slight band overlap (semimetal)
most have narrow band gap (semiconductors)
As, Sb are semimetals
most have wide band gap (insulators)
C (graphite) is a semimetal
P (black), Se, I are semiconductors
Electron behaviour "free" electrons (facilitating electrical and thermal conductivity) valence electrons less freely delocalized; considerable covalent bonding present[56]
have Goldhammer-Herzfeld criterion[n 11] ratios straddling unity[60][61]
no, few, or directionally confined "free" electrons (generally hampering electrical and thermal conductivity)
Electrical conductivity good to high[n 12] intermediate[63] to good[n 13] poor to good[n 14]
... as a liquid[69] falls gradually as temperature rises[n 15] most behave like metals[60][71] increases as temperature rises
Thermodynamics (top)
Thermal conductivity medium to high[72] mostly intermediate;[26][73] Si is high almost negligible[74] to very high[75]
Temperature coefficient of resistance[n 16] nearly all positive (Pu is negative)[76] negative (B, Si, Ge, Te)[77] or positive (As, Sb)[78] nearly all negative (C, as graphite, is positive in the direction of its planes)[79][80]
Melting behaviour volume generally expands[81] some contract, unlike (most)[82] metals[83] volume generally expands[81]
Enthalpy of fusion low to high intermediate to very high very low to low (except C is very high)
Elemental chemistry (top)
Overall behaviour metallic nonmetallic[84] nonmetallic
Ion formation tend to form cations some tendency to form anions in water[6]
solution chemistry dominated by formation and reactions of oxyanions[85][86]
tend to form anions
Bonds seldom form covalent compounds form salts as well as covalent compounds[87] form many covalent compounds
Oxidation number nearly always positive positive or negative[88] positive or negative
Ionization energy relatively low intermediate[89][90] high
Electronegativity usually low close to 2,[91] i.e., 1.9–2.2[92][n 17] high
Combined form chemistry (top)
With metals form alloys can form alloys[87][95][96] form ionic or interstitial compounds
With carbon carbides and organometallic compounds same as metals carbon-nonmetal (e.g. CO2, CS2)[n 18] or organic (e.g. CH4, C6H12O6) compounds
Hydrides ionic, with alkali, alkaline earth metals
metallic, with transition metals
covalent, with post-transition metals
covalent, volatile hydrides[97] covalent, gaseous or liquid hydrides
Oxides nearly all solid (Mn2O7 is a liquid)
very few glass formers[98]
lower oxides: ionic and basic
higher oxides: more covalent, acidic
glass formers (B, Si, Ge, As, Sb, Te)[99]
polymeric in structure;[100] tend to be amphoteric or weakly acidic[9][101]
solid, liquid or gaseous
few glass formers (P, S, Se)[102]
covalent, acidic
Sulfates do form[n 19][n 20] most form[n 21] some form[n 22]
Halides, esp. chlorides (see also[123]) typically ionic, involatile
generally insoluble in organic solvents
mostly water soluble (not hydrolysed)
more covalent, volatile, and susceptible to hydrolysis[n 23] and organic solvents with higher halogens and weaker metals[124][125]
covalent, volatile[126]
usually dissolve in organic solvents[127]
partly or completely hydrolysed[128]
some reversibly hydrolysed[128]
covalent, volatile
usually dissolve in organic solvents
generally completely or extensively hydrolyzed
not always susceptible to hydrolysis if parent nonmetal at maximum covalency for period e.g. CF4, SF6 (then nil reaction)[129]
Environmental chemistry (top)
Molar composition of Earth's ecosphere[n 24] about 14%, mostly Al, Na, Ng, Ca, Fe, K about 17%, mostly Si about 69%, mostly O, H
Primary form on Earth most occur in combined states, as carbonates, silicates, phosphates, oxides, sulfides, or halides
some (e.g. Au, Cu, Ag, Pt) occur in free or uncombined states[133]
all occur in combined states, as borates, silicates, sulfides, or tellurides elemental C, N, O, S, noble gases are plentiful
H,[n 25] F[n 26], Se occur primarily in compounds
P, Cl, Br, I occur only in compounds, as phosphates, oxides, selenides or halides
Required by mammals large amounts needed: Na, Mg, K, Ca
trace amounts needed of some others
trace amounts needed: B, Si, As large amounts needed: H, C, N, O, P, S, Cl
trace amounts needed: Se, Br, I
only noble gasses not needed
Composition of the human body, by weight about 1.5% Ca
traces of most others through 92U
trace amounts of B, Si, Ge, As, Sb, Te about 97% O, C, H, N, P
others detectable except noble gases

Anomalous properties

There were exceptions…in the periodic table, anomalies too—some of them profound. Why, for example, was manganese such a bad conductor of electricity, when the elements on either side of it were reasonably good conductors? Why was strong magnetism confined to the iron metals? And yet these exceptions, I was somehow convinced, reflected special additional mechanisms at work…

Oliver Sacks
Uncle Tungsten (2001, p. 204)

Within each category, elements can be found with one or two properties very different from the expected norm, or that are otherwise notable.


Sodium, potassium, rubidium, caesium, barium, platinum, gold
  • The common notions that "alkali metal ions (group 1A) always have a +1 charge"[135] and that "transition elements do not form anions"[136] are textbook errors. The synthesis of a crystalline salt of the sodium anion Na was reported in 1974. Since then further compounds ("alkalides") containing anions of all other alkali metals except Li and Fr, as well as that of Ba, have been prepared. In 1943, Sommer reported the preparation of the yellow transparent compound CsAu. This was subsequently shown to consist of caesium cations (Cs+) and auride anions (Au) although it was some years before this conclusion was accepted. Several other aurides (KAu, RbAu) have since been synthesized, as well as the red transparent compound Cs2Pt which was found to contain Cs+ and Pt2− ions.[citation needed]
  • Well-behaved metals have crystal structures featuring unit cells with up to four atoms. Manganese has a complex crystal structure with a 58-atom unit cell, effectively four different atomic radii, and four different coordination numbers (10, 11, 12 and 16). It has been described as resembling "a quaternary intermetallic compound with four Mn atom types bonding as if they were different elements."[137] The half-filled 3d shell of manganese appears to be the cause of the complexity. This confers a large magnetic moment on each atom. Below 727 °C, a unit cell of 58 spatially diverse atoms represents the energetically lowest way of achieving a zero net magnetic moment.[138] The crystal structure of manganese makes it a hard and brittle metal, with low electrical and thermal conductivity. At higher temperatures "greater lattice vibrations nullify magnetic effects"[137] and manganese adopts less complex structures.[139]
Iron, cobalt, nickel, gadolinium, dysprosium
  • The only elements strongly attracted to magnets are iron, cobalt, and nickel at room temperature, gadolinium just below, and dysprosium at ultra cold temperatures (below −185 °C).[citation needed]
  • The only element encountered with an oxidation state of +9 is iridium, in the [IrO4]+ cation. Other than this, the highest known oxidation state is +8, in Ru, Xe, Os, Ir, Pu, Cm, and Hs.[140]
  • The malleability of gold is extraordinary: a fist sized lump can be hammered and separated into one million paper back sized sheets, each 10 nm thick,[citation needed] 1600 times thinner than regular kitchen aluminum foil (0.016 mm thick).[citation needed]
  1. Bricks and bowling balls will float on the surface of mercury thanks to it having a density 13.5 times that of water. Equally, a solid mercury bowling ball would weigh around 50 pounds and, if it could be kept cold enough, would float on the surface of liquid gold.[citation needed]
  2. The only metal having an ionisation energy higher than some nonmetals (sulfur and selenium) is mercury.[citation needed]
  3. Mercury and its compounds have a reputation for toxicity but on a scale of 1 to 10, dimethylmercury ((CH3)2Hg) (abbr. DMM), a volatile colourless liquid, has been described as a 15. It is so dangerous that scientists have been encouraged to use less toxic mercury compounds wherever possible. In 1997, Karen Wetterhahn, a professor of chemistry specialising in toxic metal exposure, died of mercury poisoning ten months after a few drops of DMM landed on her "protective" latex gloves. Although Wetterhahn had been following the then published procedures for handling this compound, it passed through her gloves and skin within seconds. It is now known that DMM is exceptionally permeable to (ordinary) gloves, skin and tissues. And its toxicity is such that less than one-tenth of a ml applied to the skin will be seriously toxic.[141]
  • The expression, to "go down like a lead balloon" is anchored in the common view of lead as a dense, heavy metal—being nearly as dense as mercury. However, it is possible to construct a balloon made of lead foil, filled with a helium and air mixture, which will float and be buoyant enough to carry a small load.[citation needed]

Template:Periodic table (micro)Bismuth

Template:Periodic table (micro)Uranium

  • The only element with a naturally occurring isotope capable of undergoing nuclear fission is uranium.[143] The capacity of U-235 to undergo fission was first suggested (and ignored) in 1934, and subsequently discovered in 1938.#tag:ref

Template:Periodic table (micro)Plutonium

  • It is a commonly held belief that metals reduce their electrical conductivity when heated. Plutonium increases its electrical conductivity when heated in the temperature range of around –175 to +125 °C.Template:Citation needed


Template:Periodic table (micro)Boron

  • Boron is the only element with a partially disordered structure in its most thermodynamically stable crystalline form.[146]


Template:Periodic table (micro)Boron, antimony

Template:Periodic table (micro)Silicon

  1. The thermal conductivity of silicon is better than that of most metals.Template:Citation needed
  2. A sponge-like porous form of silicon (p-Si) is typically prepared by the electrochemical etching of silicon wafers in a hydrofluoric acid solution.[147] Flakes of p-Si sometimes appear red;[148] it has a band gap of 1.97–2.1 eV.[149] The many tiny pores in porous silicon give it an enormous internal surface area, up to 1,000 m2/cm3.[150] When exposed to an oxidant,[151] especially a liquid oxidant,[150] the high surface-area to volume ratio of p-Si creates a very efficient burn, accompanied by nano-explosions,[147] and sometimes by ball-lightning-like plasmoids with, for example, a diameter of 0.1–0.8 m, a velocity of up to 0.5 m/s and a lifetime of up to 1s.[152] The first ever spectrographic analysis of a ball lightning event (in 2012) revealed the presence of silicon, iron and calcium, these elements also being present in the soil.[153]

Template:Periodic table (micro)Arsenic

Template:Periodic table (micro)Antimony

  • A high-energy explosive form of antimony was first obtained in 1858. It is prepared by the electrolysis of any of the heavier antimony trihalides (SbCl3, SbBr3, SbI3) in a hydrochloric acid solution at low temperature. It comprises amorphous antimony with some occluded antimony trihalide (7–20% in the case of the trichloride). When scratched, struck, powdered or heated quickly to 200 °C, it "flares up, emits sparks and is converted explosively into the lower-energy, crystalline grey antimony."[154]


Template:Periodic table (micro)Hydrogen

  1. Water (H2O), a well known oxide of hydrogen, is a spectacular anomaly.[155] Extrapolating from the heavier hydrogen chalcogenides, namely hydrogen sulfide H2S, hydrogen selenide H2Se, and hydrogen telluride H2Te, water should be "a foul-smelling, poisonous, inflammable gas…condensing to a nasty liquid [at] around –100° C". Instead, due to hydrogen bonding, water is "stable, potable, odorless, benign, and…indispensable to life".[156]
  2. Less well known of the oxides of hydrogen is the trioxide, H2O3. Berthelot proposed the existence of this oxide in 1880 but his suggestion was soon forgotten as there was no way of testing it using the technology of the time.[157] Hydrogen trioxide was prepared in 1994 by replacing the oxygen used in the industrial process for making hydrogen peroxide, with ozone. The yield is about 40 per cent, at –78 °C; above around –40 °C it decomposes into water and oxygen.[158] Derivatives of hydrogen trioxide, such as Template:Nowrap ("bis(trifluoromethyl) trioxide") are known; these are metastable at room temperature.[159] Mendeleev went a step further, in 1895, and proposed the existence of hydrogen tetroxide Template:Nowrap as a transient intermediate in the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide;[157] this was prepared and characterised in 1974, using a matrix isolation technique.Template:Citation needed Alkali metal ozonide salts of the unknown hydrogen ozonide (HO3) are also known; these have the formula MO3.[159]

Template:Periodic table (micro)Helium

  1. At temperatures below 0.3 and 0.8 K respectively, helium-3 and helium-4 each have a negative enthalpy of fusion. This means that, at the appropriate constant pressures, these substances freeze with the addition of heat.Template:Citation needed
  2. Until 1999 helium was thought to be too small to form a cage clathrate—a compound in which a guest atom or molecule is encapsulated in a cage formed by a host molecule—at atmospheric pressure. In that year the synthesis of microgram quantities of He@C20H20 represented the first such helium clathrate and (what was described as) the world's smallest helium balloon.[160]

Template:Periodic table (micro)Carbon

  1. Graphite is the most electrically conductive nonmetal, better than some metals.Template:Citation needed
  2. Diamond is the best natural conductor of heat; it even feels cold to the touch. Its thermal conductivity (2,200 W/m•K) is five times greater than the most conductive metal (Ag at 429); 300 times higher than the least conductive metal (Pu at 6.74); and nearly 4,000 times that of water (0.58) and 100,000 times that of air (0.0224). This high thermal conductivity is used by jewelers and gemologists to separate diamonds from imitations.Template:Citation needed
  3. Graphene aerogel, produced in 2012 by freeze-drying a solution of carbon nanotubes and graphite oxide sheets and chemically removing oxygen, is seven times lighter than air, and ten per cent lighter than helium. It is the lightest solid known (0.16 mg/cm3), conductive and elastic.[161]

Template:Periodic table (micro)Phosphorus

  • The least stable and most reactive form of phosphorus is the white allotrope. It is a hazardous, highly flammable and toxic substance, spontaneously igniting in air and producing phosphoric acid residue. It is therefore normally stored under water. White phosphorus is also the most common, industrially important, and easily reproducible allotrope, and for these reasons is regarded as the standard state of phosphorus. The most stable form is the black allotrope, which is a metallic looking, brittle and relatively non-reactive semiconductor (unlike the white allotrope, which has a white or yellowish appearance, is pliable, highly reactive and a semiconductor). When assessing periodicity in the physical properties of the elements it needs to be borne in mind that the quoted properties of phosphorus tend to be those of its least stable form rather than, as is the case with all other elements, the most stable form.Template:Citation needed

Template:Periodic table (micro)Iodine







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