Metals vs. Transition Metals

What's the Difference?

Metals and transition metals are both types of elements found on the periodic table. However, transition metals are a specific subset of metals. While all metals share common characteristics such as high electrical and thermal conductivity, malleability, and luster, transition metals have additional unique properties. Transition metals are characterized by their ability to form stable complex ions with variable oxidation states, which allows them to exhibit a wide range of colors. They also have partially filled d or f orbitals, which contribute to their unique chemical and physical properties. Overall, transition metals possess more diverse and complex properties compared to other metals.


AttributeMetalsTransition Metals
DefinitionElements that are typically solid, shiny, malleable, and good conductors of heat and electricity.Elements that belong to the d-block of the periodic table and have partially filled d orbitals.
Location on Periodic TableFound on the left side of the periodic table.Found in the middle of the periodic table.
Number of ElementsApproximately 80% of all known elements are metals.There are 38 transition metals.
Physical PropertiesHigh melting and boiling points, lustrous appearance, ductile, and malleable.Similar physical properties to metals, but often have higher melting and boiling points.
Chemical PropertiesReactivity varies, but generally tend to lose electrons to form positive ions.Can exhibit multiple oxidation states and form complex compounds.
Electron ConfigurationTypically have 1-3 valence electrons.Have partially filled d orbitals in addition to valence electrons.
ExamplesIron, copper, aluminum.Iron, copper, silver.

Further Detail


Metals and transition metals are two distinct groups of elements on the periodic table. While both share some common characteristics, they also have several differences that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the attributes of metals and transition metals, highlighting their unique properties and applications.


Metals are a group of elements known for their high electrical and thermal conductivity, malleability, and ductility. They are typically shiny, solid at room temperature (except for mercury), and have a high density. Metals are found on the left side of the periodic table and include elements such as copper, iron, and gold.

One of the key attributes of metals is their ability to conduct electricity. This property is due to the presence of free electrons in the metal's atomic structure, which can move freely and carry an electric charge. Metals are widely used in electrical wiring, power transmission, and electronic devices due to their excellent conductivity.

Metals are also known for their malleability, which refers to their ability to be hammered or pressed into thin sheets without breaking. This property is a result of metallic bonding, where metal atoms share their electrons in a "sea" of delocalized electrons. This bonding allows the atoms to slide past each other easily, making metals highly malleable.

In addition to malleability, metals are also ductile, meaning they can be drawn into thin wires without breaking. This property is crucial for applications such as electrical wiring and the production of metal filaments. The ability of metals to be shaped and formed into various structures makes them indispensable in industries like construction, manufacturing, and engineering.

Metals also exhibit high thermal conductivity, allowing them to transfer heat efficiently. This property makes metals ideal for applications such as cooking utensils, heat sinks in electronic devices, and various heat exchangers. The ability of metals to conduct heat effectively ensures efficient heat transfer and distribution.

Transition Metals

Transition metals are a subset of metals that occupy the central block of the periodic table. They are characterized by their partially filled d-orbitals, which give rise to unique properties not found in other elements. Transition metals include elements such as iron, copper, and titanium.

One of the distinguishing attributes of transition metals is their ability to form complex ions with variable oxidation states. This property arises from the presence of partially filled d-orbitals, which can easily gain or lose electrons to form different ions. The ability to exhibit multiple oxidation states makes transition metals versatile in various chemical reactions and catalytic processes.

Transition metals are also known for their colorful compounds. The partially filled d-orbitals allow for the absorption and emission of specific wavelengths of light, resulting in the vibrant colors observed in transition metal compounds. This property is exploited in various applications, including pigments, dyes, and even biological processes such as photosynthesis.

Another important attribute of transition metals is their high strength and hardness. Transition metal alloys, such as steel, are widely used in construction, automotive, and aerospace industries due to their exceptional mechanical properties. The ability of transition metals to form strong metallic bonds and their resistance to deformation make them ideal for structural applications.

Transition metals also exhibit excellent catalytic properties. Their ability to change oxidation states and form stable intermediates allows them to facilitate chemical reactions by lowering the activation energy. Transition metal catalysts are extensively used in industrial processes, such as the Haber-Bosch process for ammonia synthesis and the catalytic converters in vehicles.


Metals and transition metals share several common attributes, such as high electrical and thermal conductivity, malleability, and ductility. However, transition metals possess unique properties, including variable oxidation states, colorful compounds, high strength, and exceptional catalytic properties, which set them apart from other metals. Understanding the attributes of metals and transition metals is crucial for their applications in various industries, ranging from electronics and construction to catalysis and materials science.

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