Metals vs non-metals

Metals are placed on the left-hand side of the periodic table, and non-metals on the right.

Physical properties

The table summarises some typical physical properties of metals and non-metals.

MetalsNon-metals
ShinyDull
High melting pointsLow boiling points
Good conductors of electricityPoor conductors of electricity
Good conductors of heatPoor conductors of heat
High densityLow density
MalleableBrittle

Some elements have properties that are not typical. For example:

  • mercury (a metal) has a low melting point and exists as a liquid at room temperature
  • graphite, a form of carbon (a non-metal), has a high boiling point and is also a good conductor of electricity

A substance with a high density means it has a high mass for its size.

Malleable substances can be bent or hammered into shape without shattering, while brittle substances shatter when bent or hit.

Ductile means that a substance can be drawn out into a long wire without snapping or breaking.

Chemical properties

The reactions of elements are related to the electron arrangement of their atoms (and so to their atomic number). Electrons in the outer shells are lost, gained or shared in reactions. Elements in a group have similar chemical properties because they have the same number of electrons in their outer shells.

ReactionElectrons in outer shellsType of bonding formed
metal + non-metalLost from metal atoms, gained by non-metal atomsIonic
non-metal + non-metalPairs of electrons sharedCovalent

In general:

  • metals form positively charged ions but non-metals form negatively charged ions
  • metals form basic oxides, some of which dissolve to form alkaline solutions, but non-metals form acidic oxides
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