P-Block Elements on the Periodic Table: Properties & Overview

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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.

Expert Contributor
Will Welch

Will has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Wyoming and has experience in a broad selection of chemical disciplines and college-level teaching.

Elements whose outermost electrons are in the p-orbital are known as 'P-Block' elements, found in a block on the periodic table. Explore an overview of the properties of this array of 35 elements organized as metals, metalloids, nonmetals, halogens, and noble gases. Updated: 09/24/2021

What Are P-Block Elements?

The p-block is on the right side of the periodic table and includes elements from the six columns beginning with column 3A and ending with column 8A (or columns 13-18 on some versions of the periodic table). Helium, which is in the top of column 8A, is not included in the p-block. In the periodic table shown here, the p-block is colored orange.

periodic table by orbital

P-block elements are unified by the fact that their valence electrons (outermost electrons) are in the p orbital. The p orbital consists of six lobed shapes coming off a central point at evenly spaced angles. The p orbital can hold a maximum of six electrons, hence why there are six columns in the p-block. Elements in column 3A, the first column of the p-block, have one valence electron. Elements in column 4A, the second column of the p-block, have two valence electrons. The trend continues this way until we reach column 8A, which has six valence electrons.

There are 35 elements that live in the p-block, which can be seen here.

p-block elements on PT

The p-block is home to the biggest variety of elements and is the only block that contains all three types of elements: metals, nonmetals, and metalloids. Generally, the p-block elements are best described in terms of element type or column number.

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  • 0:00 What Are P-Block Elements?
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Properties of P-Block Metals

P-block metals have classic metal characteristics: they are shiny, they are good conductors of heat and electricity, and they lose electrons easily. Generally, these metals have high melting points and readily react with nonmetals to form ionic compounds. Ionic compounds form when a positive metal ion bonds with a negative nonmetal ion.

Of the p-block metals, several have fascinating properties. Gallium, in the 3rd row of column 3A, is a metal that can melt in the palm of your hand. Tin, in the fourth row of column 4A, is an abundant, flexible, and extremely useful metal. It is an important component of many metal alloys like bronze, solder, and pewter.

Sitting right beneath tin is lead, a toxic metal with an intriguing history. Ancient peoples used lead for a variety of things, from food sweeteners to pottery glazes to eating utensils. Unbeknownst to these ancient civilizations, lead is quite toxic. Many historians suspect that lead poisoning is related to the fall of Roman civilization. For a long time, lead was used in the manufacturing of paints. It was only within the last century that lead paint use has been restricted due to its toxic nature.

Properties of P-Block Metalloids

Metalloids have properties of both metals and nonmetals, but the term 'metalloid' lacks a strict definition. All of the elements that are commonly recognized as metalloids are in the p-block: boron, silicon, germanium, arsenic, antinomy, and tellurium.

Silicon is perhaps the most famous metalloid. It is the second most abundant element in Earth's crust and one of the main ingredients in glass. It is used to make microchips for computers and other electronic devices. So valuable is silicon to the technology industry that Silicon Valley in California is named after it.

Germanium has properties very similar to silicon, yet this element is much more rare. Arsenic is a toxic metalloid that has been used throughout history as an additive to metal alloys, paints, and even makeup.

Properties of P-Block Nonmetals

Most of the p-block elements are nonmetals. These elements generally have low boiling points, are poor conductors, and do not lose electrons easily. Some nonmetals are solids at room temperature, while others are gases. One nonmetal in the p-block, bromine, is a liquid at room temperature.

Carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, selenium, and iodine regularly occur as solids. Pure carbon commonly occurs as graphite or diamond, but it can bond with other elements to form a variety of compounds. Carbon is considered to be the most important element to life because most compounds essential to living things contain carbon. Phosphorus, sulfur, selenium, and iodine make brittle solids of various colors.

Nitrogen and oxygen often occur as gases, and both elements are important to living organisms. Nitrogen is the most abundant element in our atmosphere; approximately 78% of it is made of nitrogen. In its gaseous form, oxygen makes up 20% of our atmosphere.

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Additional Activities

Discussion Questions on p-Block Elements

The following questions are meant for discussion and exploration.

The Diamond Structure

Pure carbon has a couple of allotropes. One is graphite and one is diamond, the hardest natural mineral. A picture of how carbons are bonded in diamond is below:

  • A couple of other elements crystallize in the diamond structure - which ones would you expect to do this based on bonding in diamond?
  • Diamond is a covalent network solid, but its relatives having diamond structure are not very covalent. Why?

Chemical Properties of Oxygen and Sulfur

  • Elemental oxygen exists as O2, but elemental sulfur exists primarily as S8. Can this be explained based on their positions on the periodic table?
  • Lewis dots predict elemental oxygen to have a double bond, but it actually exists as a biradical. What does this implicate about its reactivity?

Row 2 Elements

  • C, O and N are by far the most abundant elements in living organisms. What is so special about row 2?


The Diamond Structure:

  • Silicon and germanium are the other elements that crystallize in the diamond structure.
  • Carbon is small, so p orbitals on interacting atoms overlap very well. Silicon and especially germanium are bigger and their orbitals have less overlap, so while there is covalent character in silicon bonds, it is not very strong. Germanium is considered barely or non-covalent.

Chemical Properties of Oxygen and Sulfur:

  • Again it's about orbital size. The larger sulfur atom prefers to make single bonds and S(2) is possible, so more atoms have larger Van der Waals forces. Sulfur's size makes an 8-membered ring favorable.
  • As a biradical, oxygen is far more reactive than it would be if it were double-bonded.

Row 2 Elements:

  • Again, size. Row 2 atoms are small and they all have p orbitals that are the same size, so they form relatively short and strong sigma and pi bonds with one another. This allows for organic and biomolecules to be especially resilient.

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