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Understanding the difference between metals and non-metals

Both metals and non-metals are very common materials that are widely used by humans. In fact, without these materials surviving would have been hard for us. They are different elements in the periodic table, which is why the topic needs to be treated for their clear differentiation.

metals and non-metals

Today you’ll get to know the definition, types, physical and chemical properties, and difference between metals and non-metals.

Read more: Heat Treatment of Aluminum and Aluminum alloys

What are metals?

Metals are materials that show a lustrous appearance when freshly prepared polished, or fractured. They conduct electricity and heat relatively well. Generally, metals are malleable, that is, they can be hammered into thin sheets or ductile which makes them be drawn into wires. Also, metals may be a chemical element such as iron (stainless steel) or a molecular compound (polymeric sulfur nitride).

Almost all elements in the periodic table are metals which include alkali metals, transition metals, lanthanides, actinides, and alkaline earth metals. Although they are separated from the nonmetals on the periodic table through a zigzag line starting from carbon, phosphorus, selenium, iodine, and stop with radon.

In the table, elements right to the listed ones are nonmetals. Elements that are located just to the left of the line are termed semimetals or metalloids. They have the properties of both metals and nonmetals.

In physics, metals are generally seen as any substance that is capable of conducting electricity at a temperature of absolute zero. Many elements and compounds that are not normally classified as metals can become metallic under high pressures. For instance, iodine which is a nonmetal gradually becomes a metal at a pressure between 40,000- and 170,000-times atmospheric pressure.

On the other way round, some materials regarded as metals can become nonmetals. For example, sodium becomes a nonmetal at a pressure of less than 2-million-times atmospheric pressure.

Read more: Different Types of Nonferrous Metals and their Uses

Metals can be categorized into two; ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

Ferrous metals

Ferrous metals are metals that contain mostly iron and small amounts of other elements. They are prone to rust when exposed to moisture and they can be picked up by a magnet. Examples of ferrous metals include mild steel, cast iron, and steel.

Non-ferrous metals

Non-ferrous metals are metals that do not contain or have any iron in them. in this case, non-metals cannot be picked up by a magnet and they do not rust when exposed to moisture. Types of non-ferrous metals include copper, zinc, tin, etc.

More types of metal elements include:

  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Nickel
  • Aluminum
  • Mercury (Liquid metal)
  • Titanium
  • Radium
  • Californium

Read more: Heat Treatment of non ferrous metals

Properties of metals

Physical properties of metals

Below are the physical or mechanical properties of metals.

  • Shiny (lustrous) in nature.
  • Ductile
  • Opaque
  • Good conductor of heat and electricity
  • Malleable
  • At room temperature, it is in solid form except for mercury.
  • High density and melting point.

Chemical properties of metals

Below are the chemical properties of metals.

  • Metals have low electronegativities
  • Easily corrodible
  • Good reducing agents
  • Ability to lose electrons
  • Form basic oxides.

Read more:  The 3 Stages of Heat Treatment Process

types of metals and non-metals

What are Non-metals?

Non-metals are the chemical element that does not have metal’s properties in them. they occupy the upper right-hand portion of the periodic table even though they are few. An element that comes under non-metals includes Sulphur, carbon, all halogens, phosphorus, hydrogen, oxygen, selenium, nitrogen, and noble gases.

Unlike metals, non-metals are not shiny, malleable, or ductile, they are not good conduction of electricity. The physical and chemical properties of metals and non-metals vary widely, that is, the properties of non-metals have less in common with each other than metals. Some non-metals are in solid form while some are gases at room temperature. Furthermore, noble gases and halogens elements are also referred to as non-metals

Properties of non-metals

Physical properties of non-metals

Below are the physical properties of non-metals:

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  • Non-ductile materials
  • Poor conductor of heat and electricity
  • Brittle solids
  • Transparent
  • They may be solids, liquids, or gases at room temperature.
  • They are not sonorous

Read more: Properties and Composition of Pig Iron

Chemical properties of non-metals

Below are the chemical properties of non-metals:

  • Non-metals easily gain or lose valance electrons
  • Great oxidizing agents
  • They are high electronegative elements
  • Electrons in the outer shell are generally 4-8
  • Non-metals form acidic oxides whenever they come in contact with oxygen.

Types of non-metals include:

  • Diamond
  • Sulfur
  • Graphite
  • Carbon
  • Iodine
  • Tincture
  • Bromine (liquid non-metal)
  • Phosphorus
  • Silicon
  • Boron

watch video to learn more on metals and non-metals:

So, the big question today is the difference between metals and non-metals. Well, non-metals and metals take different forms (allotropes), that is, they have different shapes and properties. Allotropes are elements that exist in two or more different physical forms.

Read more: Properties of Wrought iron and its Application

Difference between metals and non-metals

The table below shows the difference between metals and non-metals

difference between metals and non-metals

Metals Non-metals
These are solids at room temperature except mercury These exist in all three states
These are very hard except sodium These are soft except diamond
These are malleable and ductile These are brittle and can break down into pieces
These are shiny These are non-lustrous except iodine
Electropositive in nature Electronegative in nature
Have high densities Have low densities

Read more: What is Heat treatment of metals? – its advantages and disadvantages


Metals and non-metals are materials that make life convenient for humans. They are of different elements when viewed from the periodic table. In this article, we’ve seen the definition, types (ferrous and non-ferrous metals), chemical and physical (mechanical) properties of metals and non-metals. We also saw the difference between metals and non-metals.

I hope you enjoyed the reading, if so, kindly comment, share, and recommend this post to other technical students. Thanks.

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