What is a Substance? - Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is a Substance?
  • 0:52 Types of Substances
  • 1:45 Examples of Substances
  • 3:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: LaRita Williams

LaRita holds a master's degree and is currently an adjunct professor of Chemistry.

Chemistry is the study of matter, which can be classified into two categories: substances and mixtures. In this lesson, we will define the term 'substance' and discuss types of substances and specific examples in more detail.

What Is a Substance?

Did you know that everything in the entire universe is some form of matter? It's true! Anything that has mass and takes up space is recognized as matter. That means matter is everything, including your desk, your clothes, your food, and even you! All matter, however, is not the same. In fact, if we follow the flow chart shown here, we see that the matter around us can be classified into one of two categories: mixtures or substances.

Flow Chart of Matter

The term 'substance' is fairly common and tends to be used with several different meanings in everyday language. However, in the world of physical science, a substance is simply a pure form of matter. In other words, a substance is matter that contains only one type of atom or molecule. Meanwhile, a mixture contains a combination of different atoms or molecules and is therefore said to be impure.

Types of Substances

Continuing along our flow chart, we see that pure substances can be further divided into two sub-categories: elements and compounds.

Elements are the simplest form of matter, which means they cannot be broken down into smaller components physically or chemically. All elements are listed on the periodic table, and there are at least 118 of them known to man! Examples of elements include carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), and sodium (Na), just to name a few.

Compounds, on the other hand, are made up of two or more different elements held together by chemical bonds and functioning as a unit. While compounds are also pure substances, they differ from elements because compounds can be broken down into simpler components (the elements that make up the compound). Some examples of compounds are carbon dioxide (CO2), rust (Fe2O3), and table salt (NaCl).

Examples of Substances

Let's discuss a few examples of pure substances.

A sample of silicon consists of only one type of atom: silicon atoms. Therefore, silicon is a pure substance. Since these silicon atoms are in their simplest form and cannot be broken down any further, the substance, silicon, is also an element. Remember, an easy way to figure out whether or not something is an element is to look for it on the periodic table. Anything represented on the periodic table is an element and is, therefore, a pure substance! Silicon is number 14 on the periodic table and has the symbol Si.

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