Metals vs Nonmetals- Definition, 16 Key Differences, Examples

Metals Definition

Metals are a group of elements that are characterized by definite physical and chemical properties like malleability, ductility, and electrical as well as thermal conductivity.

  • Metals are primarily present beneath the Earth’s surface and occur in different rocks and structures called ores. Some metals might exist in free form as they do not readily react with other elements.
  • These account for about three-fourths of all the known elements discovered to date. About 25% of the Earth’s crust is comprised of chemical naturally occurring metals.
  • The term metal might be used for any substance that is capable of conducting electricity, and it has been observed that elements that are not categorized as metals might be metallic under high pressure and temperature.
  • Most metals exist in a solid crystalline structure where each metal might have a characteristic crystal structure distinguished by definite packing of atoms and symmetry.
  • Atomically, metals usually have less than half of the electrons in their outermost shell as required to complete a stable configuration.
  • The atomic configurations of the metals prevent them from forming compounds with other metals. They do readily react with nonmetals to form various compounds.
  • Most of the characteristic properties of metals are the result of the free electrons present in the outermost shell.
  • The mechanical properties like hardness, malleability, and ductility of metals are the result of their densely packed crystal structure.
  • Chemical elements are placed on the right side of the periodic table, where they are arranged based on their atomic structure.
  • Metallic elements can be categorized into different groups in the periodic table; alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, transition metals, post-transition metals, lanthanides, and actinides.
  •  Different metals might combine with one another to form alloys that exploit different characteristics of different metals for the required purpose.
  • Metals have been in use for centuries as tools used by cavemen for food and shelter to parts of spaceships and rockets launched into outer space.
  • Since many metals have shine or luster, these are also used for decorative purposes.

Nonmetals Definition

Nonmetals are a group of substances that lack the characteristic properties of metals and are usually nonmalleable, non-ductile, and poor conductors of heat and electricity.

  • Nonmetals can exist in solid, liquid, or gaseous states, and they exhibit a wider range of properties, unlike metals.
  • Nonmetals have a higher electron affinity and electronegativity as they have more than half of the number of electrons on their outermost shell that is required to attain a stable configuration.
  • There are seventeen elements that are classified as nonmetals, where most are gases, a few are solids, and bromine is liquid.
  • These gaseous nonmetals are mostly found in the atmosphere, whereas the solid and liquid nonmetals can be found on the Earth’s surface.
  • Solid nonmetals are usually soft and amorphous with no definite structure or lattice and, thus, are usually brittle.
  • Nonmetals display a wider range of mechanical and optical properties as they can be brittle to plastic and transparent to opaque.
  • Even though nonmetals preferably react with metals to form compounds, some nonmetals can react with each other as well, depending on the difference in their ionization energies and electronegativities.
  • Nonmetals are placed on the right side of the periodic table based on their atomic structure; however, hydrogen is a nonmetal present on the left side.
  • Nonmetals can be classified into two categories; reactive nonmetals and noble gases. The reactive nonmetals like carbon and sulfur have moderate to weak nonmetallic properties and, thus, can form covalent compounds with metals.
  • The more reactive nonmetals like fluorine and oxygen usually have strong nonmetallic properties and can form ionic compounds with metals.
  • The noble gases are nonreactive stable nonmetals that do not react with other elements as they have a stable electronic configuration.
  • Nonmetals are essential for different purposes as nonmetals like carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen form the basis of living beings. 
  • Oxygen is one of the most important nonmetals, which is essential for all living beings for survival.
  • Besides, other nonmetals like sulfur, phosphorus, and iodine are considered micronutrients for various living beings.
Metals vs Nonmetals
Metals vs Nonmetals. Created with BioRender.com

16 Key Differences (Metals vs Nonmetals)

Characteristics Metals Nonmetals
Definition Metals are a group of elements that are characterized by definite physical and chemical properties like malleability, ductility, and electrical as well as thermal conductivity. Nonmetals are a group of substances that lack the characteristic properties of metals and are usually nonmalleable, non-ductile, and poor conductors of heat and electricity.
Periodic table Metals are placed on the left side of the periodic table. Nonmetals are placed on the right side of the periodic table.
Metals are present on the s, p, d, and f blocks of the table. Nonmetals are present on the s and p blocks of the table.
Physical properties Metals are shiny or have luster. Nonmetals are dull with no luster.
Metals are usually hard and solid. Nonmetals can range from solid, liquid to gas. The solid nonmetals are usually soft.
Metals usually exist in the crystalline structure. Nonmetals usually exist in an amorphous structure.
Metals are malleable. Nonmetals are nonmalleable.
Metals are ductile. Nonmetals are non-ductile.
The thermal and electrical conductivity of metals is quite high. Nonmetals exhibit no to weak thermal and electrical conductivity.
Electronegativity Metals have lower electronegativity. Nonmetals have a higher electronegativity.
Ionization energy Metals have lower ionization energy. Nonmetals have higher ionization energy.
Tensile strength Metals have high tensile strength due to the stronger bond of attraction between the molecules. Nonmetals have low tensile strength due to the weaker bond of attraction between the molecules.
Melting and boiling point Metals have a high boiling and melting point. Nonmetals have a low boiling and melting point.
Electrons on the valence shell Metals usually have less than half of the electrons in their outermost shell as required to complete a stable configuration. They have more than half of the number of electrons on their outermost shell that is required to attain a stable configuration.
Abundance Metals are more abundant than nonmetals. There are fewer nonmetals as compared to metals.
Examples Some examples of metals are iron, gold, sodium, zinc, etc. Some examples of nonmetals are oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, chlorine, bromine, etc.

Examples of Metals

Aluminium

  • Aluminium is the most abundant metallic element on the Earth’s surface, commonly used as a nonferrous metal.
  • Aluminium doesn’t occur in the metallic form in nature and is extracted in the form of compounds from rocks, vegetation, and animals.
  • Aluminium has a great affinity towards oxygen, and thus, it usually has a layer of oxide on the surface.
  • Aluminium is usually soft, malleable, and ductile and is thus used to produce wires and sheets.
  • It is considered a soft metal that belongs to the boron group of the alkaline earth metals in the periodic table.
  • The aluminium atom consists of 13 electrons with three electrons on the outermost shell. The atoms have low ionization energy and high electronegativity.
  • Aluminium has been increasingly used in different motor and textile industries as it is rust-free and lighter than iron.

Examples of Nonmetals

Nitrogen

  • Nitrogen is the most abundant element on the Earth’s surface and one of the major constituents of all living matter.
  • Nitrogen, on Earth, also occurs in the form of ammonia, nitric acid, and ammonium salts. Some nitrogen might occur in mineral deposits as well.
  • Nitrogen is the lightest element of the nitrogen family and is present on the p block of the periodic table.
  • Nitrogen atoms have seven electrons, where five electrons are present in the outermost orbit.
  • Nitrogen readily reacts with metals like aluminium and sodium and forms covalent bonds.
  • Nitrogen is a macroelement that is found in essential biomolecules like amino acids and nucleic acids.
  • Besides, liquid nitrogen is used in cryogenics in order to preserve delicate compounds.

References and Sources

  • Gautum SD, Pant M and Adhikari NR (2016). Comprehensive Chemistry, Part 2. Sixth Edition. Heritage Publishers and Distributors Pvt. Ltd
  • Takai, Ken. “The Nitrogen Cycle: A Large, Fast, and Mystifying Cycle.” Microbes and environments vol. 34,3 (2019): 223-225. doi:10.1264/jsme2.ME3403rh
  • Klotz, Katrin et al. “The Health Effects of Aluminum Exposure.” Deutsches Arzteblatt international vol. 114,39 (2017): 653-659. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2017.0653
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