Metals vs. Nonmetals

What's the Difference?

Metals and nonmetals are two distinct categories of elements on the periodic table. Metals are typically shiny, malleable, and good conductors of heat and electricity. They tend to have high melting and boiling points and are often solid at room temperature, with the exception of mercury. Nonmetals, on the other hand, are generally dull, brittle, and poor conductors of heat and electricity. They have lower melting and boiling points compared to metals and can exist in various states at room temperature, including gases like oxygen and solids like sulfur. While metals are known for their ability to lose electrons and form positive ions, nonmetals tend to gain electrons and form negative ions. Overall, metals and nonmetals exhibit contrasting physical and chemical properties, making them important components of the periodic table.


Physical StateSolid (except for Mercury)Varies (Solid, Liquid, or Gas)
ConductivityGood conductors of heat and electricityPoor conductors of heat and electricity
MalleabilityMalleable (can be hammered into thin sheets)Brittle (tend to shatter when hammered)
DuctilityDuctile (can be drawn into thin wires)Non-ductile (tend to break when stretched)
LusterShinyDull or shiny (depending on the nonmetal)
ReactivityReactive (tend to lose electrons and form cations)Varies (some nonmetals can gain or share electrons)
ElectronegativityLow electronegativityHigh electronegativity
Ionization EnergyLow ionization energyHigh ionization energy
ExamplesIron, Copper, GoldOxygen, Nitrogen, Carbon

Further Detail


Metals and nonmetals are two distinct categories of elements found in the periodic table. While metals are known for their shiny appearance and ability to conduct heat and electricity, nonmetals exhibit opposite properties. In this article, we will explore the attributes of metals and nonmetals, highlighting their differences and unique characteristics.

Physical Properties

Metals generally have a lustrous appearance, reflecting light due to their high reflectivity. They are malleable, meaning they can be hammered into thin sheets, and ductile, allowing them to be drawn into wires. Nonmetals, on the other hand, lack the characteristic metallic luster and are typically brittle, meaning they break easily when subjected to stress. They are neither malleable nor ductile, making them unsuitable for shaping or stretching.

Metals are excellent conductors of heat and electricity due to the presence of free electrons that can move freely within their atomic structure. This property makes metals vital in electrical wiring, as they allow the flow of electric current. Nonmetals, on the contrary, are poor conductors of heat and electricity. They lack free electrons and have a higher resistance to the flow of electric current, making them insulators rather than conductors.

Another distinguishing physical property of metals is their high density. Most metals are heavy and have a high atomic mass, which contributes to their weight. Nonmetals, on the other hand, tend to have lower densities, making them lighter compared to metals. This property is evident in elements such as helium and hydrogen, which are nonmetals and have extremely low densities.

Chemical Properties

Metals have a tendency to lose electrons and form positive ions, known as cations. This characteristic is due to their low ionization energy, which allows them to readily give up electrons and achieve a stable electron configuration. Nonmetals, on the other hand, have a higher ionization energy, making it more difficult for them to lose electrons. Instead, they tend to gain electrons and form negative ions, called anions.

Metals are generally highly reactive, especially with nonmetals, as they have a strong tendency to donate electrons. This reactivity is evident in alkali metals such as sodium and potassium, which readily react with water and oxygen. Nonmetals, on the contrary, exhibit a wide range of reactivity. Some nonmetals, like fluorine and chlorine, are highly reactive and readily form compounds, while others, like noble gases, are inert and have very low reactivity.

Metals have a strong affinity for oxygen, leading to the formation of metal oxides when exposed to air. This process is commonly known as oxidation and is responsible for the corrosion of metals. Nonmetals, on the other hand, do not readily react with oxygen and are less prone to oxidation. However, certain nonmetals, such as sulfur and phosphorus, can react with oxygen under specific conditions.

Occurrence and Uses

Metals are abundant in nature and can be found in various forms, including ores and minerals. They are widely used in industries such as construction, transportation, and electronics. Common metals like iron, aluminum, and copper are essential for infrastructure development, manufacturing of vehicles, and electrical wiring. Precious metals like gold and silver are valued for their rarity and are used in jewelry and currency.

Nonmetals, on the other hand, are relatively scarce compared to metals. They are found in the Earth's crust, but in smaller quantities. Nonmetals play crucial roles in various fields, including medicine, agriculture, and technology. For instance, carbon, a nonmetal, is the basis of organic chemistry and is present in all living organisms. Nonmetals like nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for plant growth, while elements like silicon and sulfur find applications in the semiconductor industry and manufacturing of fertilizers.


In conclusion, metals and nonmetals possess distinct attributes that set them apart from each other. Metals exhibit properties such as luster, malleability, and conductivity, making them valuable in various industries. Nonmetals, on the other hand, lack these properties but have their own unique characteristics, including brittleness and insulating properties. Understanding the differences between metals and nonmetals is crucial in comprehending their roles in the natural world and their applications in different fields.

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