Nonmetal Elements on the Periodic Table: Definition, Properties, & Reactions

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Elizabeth (Nikki) Wyman

Nikki has a master's degree in teaching chemistry and has taught high school chemistry, biology and astronomy.

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Dawn Mills

Dawn has taught chemistry and forensic courses at the college level for 9 years. She has a PhD in Chemistry and is an author of peer reviewed publications in chemistry.

Among the 118 elements on the periodic table, 17 are the nonmetal elements, which make up the majority of the universe and the living things within it. Study these essential elements, their key properties, and how they react with other elements. Updated: 10/11/2021

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.

Periodic table

The 17 nonmetal elements are: hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon, phosphorus, sulfur, chlorine, argon, selenium, bromine, krypton, iodine, xenon, and radon.

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  • 0:00 What Are Nonmetal Elements?
  • 0:50 Nonmetal Gas Elements
  • 1:50 Solid Elements and Noble Gases
  • 2:45 Reactions with Metals
  • 4:05 Reactions with Other Nonmetals
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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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.


Noble Gases

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.

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Additional Activities

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.


1. Yes

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

9. No

10. Bromine can exist as a liquid

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