What Are Elements?

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Atomic Number and Mass Number

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 Elements Are Everywhere
  • 0:48 What Is An Element?
  • 1:56 Elements Are Written…
  • 2:54 Elements As The…
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up


Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Nappi
Look around you. What do you see? Elements are everywhere. They are the building blocks of all matter on Earth. In this lesson, we will discuss what an element is, how elements are written as symbols, and how elements are the building blocks of all matter.

Elements Are Everywhere

Did you know when you are breathing you are actually inhaling elements? The air you breathe is made up of many elements like oxygen, nitrogen, and argon. Elements are everywhere. They are the building blocks of everything on Earth: your dog, the mountains, your car, your eyes, and, yes, even beer. In this lesson, we will discuss what an element is, how elements are written as symbols, and how they are the building blocks of all matter.

What Is an Element?

An element is a pure substance that cannot be broken down by chemical methods into simpler components. For example, the element gold cannot be broken down into anything other than gold. If you kept hitting gold with a hammer, the pieces would get smaller, but each piece will always be gold.

You can think of each kind of element having its own unique fingerprint making it different than other elements. Elements consist of only one type of atom. An atom is the smallest particle of an element that still has the same properties of that element. All atoms of a specific element have exactly the same chemical makeup, size, and mass.

There are a total of 118 elements. Many elements occur naturally on Earth; however, some are created in a laboratory by scientists by nuclear processes.

Elements Are Written as Symbols

Instead of writing the whole elemental name, elements are often written as a symbol. For example, O is the symbol for oxygen, C is the symbol for carbon, and H is the symbol for hydrogen. Not all elements have just one letter as the symbol, but have two letters - like Al is the symbol for aluminum and Ni is the symbol for nickel. The first letter is always capitalized, but the second letter is not. Symbol names do not always match the letters in the elemental name. For example, Fe is the symbol for iron and Au is the symbol for gold. These symbol names are derived from the Latin names for those elements.

Elements as the Building Blocks of Matter

Elements are the building blocks of all matter. Matter is anything that takes up space. It includes everything we can see as well as things we cannot see, like air.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account