Chemical symbols

Each element is given its own chemical symbol, like H for hydrogen or O for oxygen. Chemical symbols are usually one or two letters long.

Every chemical symbol starts with a capital letter, with the second letter written in lower case.

For example, Mg is the correct symbol for magnesium, but mg, mG and MG are wrong. Take care to write chemical symbols correctly.

Table showing that capital M, lowecase g is correct but other variations of capitals and lowercase are wrong

Symbols and names

Sometimes it is easy to tell which element a symbol stands for. For example, C stands for carbon and Li stands for lithium.

But sometimes the symbol comes from a name for the element that is not an English word. For example, W stands for tungsten (from the word wolfram) and Na stands for sodium (from the word natrium).

The same chemical symbols are used all over the world, no matter which language is spoken, which makes them very useful.