What Are Nonmetal Elements?
Only 17 elements on the periodic table are nonmetal elements, yet they make up most of the matter in the universe and most of us living things!
Many sources define nonmetal elements as elements that are not metals and lack qualities of metals. What that means is that nonmetal elements are elements with relatively low boiling points, that are poor conductors of heat and electricity, and that do not readily give up their electrons.
In the periodic table below, the nonmetal element squares are colored red. Nonmetals are located on the far right side of the periodic table, except hydrogen, which is located in the top left corner.
The 17 nonmetal elements are: hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon, phosphorus, sulfur, chlorine, argon, selenium, bromine, krypton, iodine, xenon, and radon.
Nonmetal Gas Elements
Most of the nonmetals are clear, odorless gases at room temperature. Hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, oxygen, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon all fit into this category. 78% of our atmosphere is made up of nitrogen atoms, while 20% is made up of oxygen.
Chlorine is a yellow-green colored gas with a distinct odor that burns the nostrils in high doses. You may have smelled it when visiting a chlorinated pool. Fluorine is a yellow gas that is equally unpleasant to smell and definitely more toxic. Radon is unstable and often radioactive. It seeps into underground basements and must be pumped out through ventilation systems.
Bromine is a brown liquid at room temperature that readily evaporates into a deep orange gas. It's the only nonmetal element that exists in liquid form. Like chlorine and fluorine, bromine has a distinct odor and can be quite toxic.
Solid Nonmetal Elements
The remaining elements, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, selenium, and iodine, exist in solid forms at room temperature. Each of these nonmetal elements has several different solid forms it can exist in, though some forms are more common than others.
For example, carbon is most commonly found as graphite, but it also forms diamonds. The most common form of sulfur is yellow and brittle solid and slightly stinky, like rotten eggs. Phosphorus has many forms, one of which is a gas, white phosphorus, that can ignite if exposed to oxygen. Iodine is often a brown solid that easily sublimes into purple vapors.
The farthest right column of the periodic table contains some special nonmetal elements known as the noble gases. These elements are clear, odorless gases that are especially nonreactive. They exist most stably as lone atoms. Another word for this is monatomic.
Reactions with Metals
With the exception of the noble gases, nonmetals are capable of a wide variety of reactions. The type of reaction depends on the specific properties of the nonmetal. There are some general kinds of reactions that all nonmetals are capable of.
Many nonmetals are extremely greedy for electrons and will take them from metals. In these reactions, a nonmetal like nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, phosphorus, bromine, or sulfur will attack a metal and steal its electrons. The nonmetal, with its surplus of electrons, is now a 'negatively' charged ion.
Meanwhile, the metal has a deficit of electrons and is now a 'positively' charged ion. Opposites attract, and this positively charged metal and negatively charged nonmetal form a compound known as an ionic compound.
The equation 'M' plus 'X' becomes 'M' 'X' shows how a metal, 'M', will react with a nonmetal, 'X', to form an ionic compound, 'MX'. For example, solid sodium reacts with chlorine gas to make the ionic compound sodium chloride, also known as table salt. Another example is rust. Iron metal reacts with oxygen gas to form solid iron oxide - rust.
Reactions with Other Nonmetals
Nonmetals are always searching to gain electrons rather than lose them. Many nonmetal elements like to bond with one other element of their own kind. In a battle of desire, some nonmetals can steal electrons outright from other nonmetals, but most of the time they elect to share electrons. This is called a covalent bond.
When two of the same elements are bonded together, they are called diatomic molecules. Nonmetals that prefer to exist diatomically include hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, bromine, iodine, nitrogen, and chlorine. This series of nonmetals is often referred to as the HOFBrINCl series.
One example of nonmetals reacting to form a covalent compound is that of ammonia. Diatomic nitrogen reacts with diatomic hydrogen to produce ammonia. Another is when hydrogen peroxide breaks down into water and diatomic oxygen gas.
Nonmetal elements are abundant in the universe and incredibly important building blocks for life. There are 17 nonmetal elements, and all are located on the right side of the periodic table with the exception of hydrogen, which is on the top left side.
Nonmetal elements have relatively low boiling points, are poor conductors of heat and electricity, and don't like to lose electrons. Most nonmetals are gases at room temperature; however, a few are solids and only one (bromine) is a liquid.
The noble gases are an unreactive group of nonmetals that like to exist as independent atoms, or be monatomic. Metals and nonmetals react to form ionic compounds. In these reactions, nonmetals steal electrons from metals. Several other elements like to exist as diatomic molecules. They can be remembered as the HOFBrINCl series. These nonmetals share electrons and form covalent compounds.
About the Nonmetal Elements
- There are 17 nonmetal elements on the periodic table
- Nonmetals have low boiling points, are poor conductors, and like to keep their electrons
- At room temperature, most nonmetals are gases, a few are solids, and one is a liquid
- The noble gases are unreactive while the other nonmetals form ionic or covalent compounds
When you are done, you should be able to:
- Name the nonmetals of the periodic table
- List key properties of the nonmetals
- Discuss how nonmetals react with other elements
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Nonmetal Elements and Corresponding Properties and Reactions
The questions below will provide additional practice in identifying and understanding nonmetal elements. Solutions have been provided to check the accuracy of your answers.
1. Is selenium a non-metal?
2. Can non-metals conduct electricity?
3. Do non-metals conduct heat well?
4. Name a nonmetal that is in solid form.
5. Are halogens nonmetals? Why or why not?
6. What happens when a nonmetal reacts with a metal?
7. Do non-metals have low or high boiling points?
8. Name two non-metals that occur in gaseous states.
9. Are nonmetals malleable and ductile?
10. List a non-metal that exists in a liquid state.
2. Most do not conduct electricity but ionic compounds can conduct electricity when they are dissolved in solution (generate ions).
3. No, non-metals are poor heat conductors
4. The answer may vary; carbon, sulfur, iodine
5. Yes, the halogens are non-metals. Halogens are close to having a full valance shell so they will easily gain electrons.
6. They can react to form an ionic compound.
7. low boiling points
8. The answer may vary; oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen
10. Bromine can exist as a liquid
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack