The 118 elements found on the periodic table can be classified into two broad categories: metals and non-metals. The primary distinction between them is based on the physical and chemical properties they show. In addition, some of these elements are naturally occurring in nature, whereas some of these elements are synthetically prepared.
The main difference between metals and non-metals can be made based on their appearances and properties. Metals are highly electropositive elements, i.e., they tend to lose electrons easily. On the other hand, non-metals are highly electronegative, i.e., they tend to gain electrons very quickly.
Therefore, the chemical properties of metals and non-metals depend upon the ease with which they gain or lose electrons.
This blog post will further discuss the differences in more detail. The terms metals and non-metals are strictly non-interchangeable. We will try to establish a clear concept of the differences between them in this blog.
What is a Metal?
Metals are substances that have high electrical and thermal conductivity. They are crystalline solids, lustrous in appearance and sonorous in nature. They are used in constructing metal wires and circuits.
Some metals are soft and can be cut with a knife, such as sodium, whereas some metals, such as iron, have high strength. As said earlier, they are highly electropositive; they form cations very easily.
What is a Non-metal?
Non-metals are substances that are very poor conductors of heat and electricity. They are non-crystalline, lacking all metallic properties. They can exist as gasses as well as solids, which are generally brittle in nature.
They do not lose electrons easily; instead, they like to gain electrons and thus form anions. Some examples of non-metals are chlorine, fluorine, sulfur, and phosphorus.
Key Differences between Metals and Non-Metals
The differences between metals and non-metals are in their physical and chemical properties, which are discussed in detail below:
Differences in physical properties
Nature of existence: Most metals exist as shiny solids, though non-metals can exist in the forms of solids, liquids, and gasses.
Electrical conductivity: Based on its nature to conduct electricity, the elements are categorized into two types: conductors and non-conductors. When an element is a good carrier of electricity, we call it a conductor. When an element is a poor conductor of electricity, we call it a non-conductor. Metals are good conductors of electricity, whereas non-metals are poor conductors of electricity.
Malleability: The property of being able to get beaten into thin sheets is called malleability. This characteristic property is shown by metals. We have encountered this in our daily lives where we use thin aluminum sheets or foil for wrapping foods. Unfortunately, non-metals are brittle and fail to show malleability, so if we try to beat wood into sheets, it will break and not get thin.
Ductility: The property of metal by which it can be drawn into wires is called ductility. Being good conductors of electricity and malleable, metals can be molded into wires. For example, most wires and circuits are constructed of copper wires, a metal. But we never see wires made up of carbon or coal because they are non-metals, and they cannot be drawn into wires.
Sonority: When we drop steel tumblers, iron rods, or copper utensils, they emit a clinking sound, but we have never witnessed such sounds produced by dropping wood or coal. This happens because metals are sonorous, and they ring when struck hard.
Differences in chemical properties
Electronic nature: Metals have their electrons very loosely bound, which means that they do not have much affinity for electrons, and thus they can lose them easily when required. However, this is not the case with no-metals, non-metals have a very high love or affinity for electrons, and they tend to snatch electrons from other elements.
Comparison Chart: Metals Vs Non-Metals
|Appearance||Lustrous or shiny in appearance.||Non-lustrous or dull in appearance.|
|Conductivity||Good conductors of heat and electricity.||Bad conductors of heat and electricity.|
|Sonority||Sonorous, producing sound when struck.||Non-sonorous, which does not produce sound when struck.|
|Nature of existence||Primarily solids, except bromine.||It exists as solids, liquids, and gasses.|
|Ductility||Can be drawn into wires, i.e., ductile.||It cannot be drawn into wires.|
|Density||The density is high.||Density is low.|
Similarities between Metals and Non-Metals
The most significant similarity between metals and non-metals is that they can both be classified as elements. They contain the same subatomic particles- electrons, protons, and neutrons. Both metals and non-metals can exist independently in nature, though various combined forms of these substances are also found. Under controlled environments, they undergo chemical reactions to form different products.
Can I use non-metal in constructing wire?
No, as non-metals are non-conductors of heat and electricity, they cannot be made into wires.
Can metal combine with non-metal?
Yes, metals and non-metals combine together to form other substances. The most common example will be the common salt we consume, sodium chloride, which is created when a metal (sodium) and a non-metal (chlorine) combine.
What are the uses of metals?
As metals are good conductors of heat and electricity, they are used in the manufacturing of cookware and electrical appliances. They find wide usage in the construction industry, where iron rods are used in buildings and aluminum is used in aircraft. Some of the most malleable metals are used to make expensive jewelry like silver, gold and platinum.
What are the uses of non-metals?
Non-metals are vibrantly colored, and some of them find use in synthesizing firecrackers and dyes. They are combined with other metals and non-metals to be used as fertilizers. Coal, diamonds, and lead from pencils are all made largely from carbon, a non-metal.
The primary difference between a metal and a non-metal is that a metal is a conductor, and a non-metal is an insulator (non-conductor). However, both these elements find extensive purpose in our daily lives- from electricity to plastic to ordinary salt.