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Metals Versus Nonmetals

What Are the Differences between Metals and Nonmetals?

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Many metals, such as this aluminum foil, have a shiny silvery appearance.

Many metals, such as this aluminum foil, have a shiny silvery appearance.

Jurii, Creative Commons License Some nonmetals are brightly colored. Nonmetals typically lack a metallic luster.

Some nonmetals are brightly colored. Nonmetals typically lack a metallic luster.

Smithsonian Institution

Elements may be classified as either metals or nonmetals, based on their properties. Here's a look at the differences between the metals and nonmetals.

Metals

Most elements are metals. On the periodic table, metals are separated from nonmetals by a zig-zag line stepping through carbon, phosphorus, selenium, iodine and radon. These elements and those to the right of them are nonmetals. Elements just to the left of the line may be termed metalloids or semimetals and have properties intermediate between those of the metals and nonmetals. The physical and chemical properties of the metals and nonmetals may be used to tell them apart.

Metal Physical Properties

  • lustrous (shiny)
  • good conductors of heat and electricity
  • high melting point
  • high density (heavy for their size)
  • malleable (can be hammered)
  • ductile (can be drawn into wires)
  • usually solid at room temperature (an exception is mercury)
  • opaque as a thin sheet (can't see through metals)
  • metals are sonorous or make a bell-like sound when struck
Metal Chemical Properties
  • have 1-3 electrons in the outer shell of each metal atom
  • corrode easily (e.g., damaged by oxidation such as tarnish or rust)
  • lose electrons easily
  • form oxides that are basic
  • have lower electronegativities
  • are good reducing agents

Nonmetals

Nonmetal Physical Properties
  • not lustrous (dull appearance)
  • poor conductors of heat and electricity
  • nonductile solids
  • brittle solids
  • may be solids, liquids or gases at room temperature
  • transparent as a thin sheet
  • nonmetals are not sonorous
Nonmetal Chemical Properties
  • usually have 4-8 electrons in their outer shell
  • readily gain or share valence electrons
  • form oxides that are acidic
  • have higher electronegativities
  • are good oxidizing agents

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