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What's the Difference Between Element and Compound in Chemistry?

Published December 15, 2021

In chemistry, a compound is a substance that can be broken down into two or more elements. An element, on the other hand, cannot be divided into smaller substances. In chemistry, the difference between an element and a compound is difficult to define. But it's important because both types of substances have properties that are different from each other. In this article, we will discuss what makes these two categories differ from one another and how you can use them in practical life!

What is an Element?

Periodic Table of Elements, Pubchem

An element is a substance that cannot be broken down into any other substances. It is made up of one type of atom and has a specific set of properties. There are over 100 different elements, and they make up everything around us. An element can't be broken down into any other type of substance. It is a pure substance that contains the same number of protons present in its nuclei.

Element Examples: Gold, Silver, Hydrogen, Carbon

What is a Compound?

Water Molecule, a Compound of Hydrogen (H) and Oxygen (O)

A compound is a mixture of two or more elements. A compound always has a specific chemical formula, which tells you how many atoms of each element are in the compound. Compounds can be broken down into individual elements through chemical changes.

When the atoms of two different elements combine, they form a molecule. Compounds have unique physical and chemical properties that differ from the elements that make them up. Water (H20), for example, has very different properties than hydrogen gas (H) and oxygen gas (O).

Compound Examples: Water, Hydrogen Peroxide, Carbon Dioxide

Key Differences Between Element And Compound

Difference in numbers

While there are about 118 elements at present, the number of compounds is uncountable.

The difference in Forces & Properties

The atoms that make up an element are held together by electrostatic forces, which means that the elements can exist in one of three physical states: solid, liquid, or gas. However, the atoms that make up a compound are held together by covalent bonds.

The melting and boiling points of compounds are generally higher than the corresponding elements because more heat is needed to break the covalent bonds between atoms.

An element cannot be broken down into simpler substances by physical means, but a compound can be.

The difference in Structure

There are many differences that exist between elements and compounds. The most important difference is the number of atoms in each. Elements consist of only one atom, while chemicals have more than one.

An atom is the smallest particle of an element that has the chemical properties of that element. An atom has a nucleus (consisting of protons and neutrons) and electrons orbiting around it. Compounds are formed when two or more different atoms join together to share their electrons. This creates molecules, which are held together by covalent bonds. The structure of a molecule determines its chemical properties.

Difference in Formation

An element consists of atoms & is a pure substance. The very first element is believed to form through the Big Bang, even though it is debatable.

The compound formation, on the other hand, happens when two elements bond to each other with the help of a chemical reaction.

The difference in their Representation

Elements are always represented by symbols or numbers, while compounds are represented by their molecular formulas.

Comparison Chart: Elements Vs Compounds

Pure SubstanceYesNo
Total No.118Not countable
Represented BySymbols & NumbersChemical Formula
Can be broken downNoYes
ExamplesHydrogen, SilverWater, Sodium Chloride

Similarities Between a Compound and an Element

Both Have Bonds Linking Atoms Together

Many properties are common between elements and compounds, including atoms and bonds that join their atoms together. Elements and chemicals have many things in common, such as being composed of atoms and having connections between them.

Elements and compounds are both made up of atoms that can bond together. The two types of bonds in chemistry are ionic and covalent. Compounds have these bonds, which connect their atoms to each other. For example, sodium chloride is a compound with an ionic bond between its atom's electrons because it has positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chlorine ions. Both elements and compounds can have bonds, which are important for their properties in chemistry.


Can an element be broken down?

No. Elements cannot be broken down into smaller parts. There are no compounds of elements, but there are compositions made up of atoms that have the same number of protons in their nuclei and therefore they behave as one element.

Can a compound be formed from two elements?

Yes! A compound is formed when two or more elements combine chemically. The atoms of each element lose their individual identity and form a new substance with different properties. For example, when two hydrogen atoms (H) combine with one oxygen atom (O), they form the compound water (H₂O).

What is the smallest particle an element can be divided into?

The smallest particle an element can be divided into is the atom. An atom is made up of a nucleus (made of protons and neutrons) and electrons that orbit around the nucleus.

What is the smallest particle a compound can be divided into?

The smallest particles a compound can be divided in are molecules. A molecule is formed when two or more atoms join together. In a molecule, the atoms are held together by chemical bonds.


In conclusion, elements are made of one type of atom and have a specific number. Compounds can be made up by two or more different types of atoms that combine to form molecules with properties unique from the individual components. There’s a lot more to learn about these concepts, but this quick summary should help you understand why there is such a big difference between compounds and elements.

Feel free to comment and discuss about the article in the comment space below if you have any information or remarks to add. If you think we made a mistake, you can also report it there.

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About the Author: Nicolas Seignette

Nicolas Seignette, who holds a scientific baccalaureate, began his studies in mathematics and computer science applied to human and social sciences (MIASHS). He then continued his university studies with a DEUST WMI (Webmaster and Internet professions) at the University of Limoges before finishing his course with a professional license specialized in the IT professions. On 10Differences, he is in charge of the research and the writing of the articles concerning technology, sciences and mathematics.
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