Chem – Metals and Non-Metals


How do I tell the difference between metal and non-metal elements?

One important division (organization) of the periodic table that I want to discuss is what is called the metals versus the non-metals. For an example of a periodic table that shows this click here. Keep this periodic table open as you read this and do practice problems. If you look toward the right side of the periodic table you just opened, you will notice that elements toward the upper right hand corner are colored differently (the metals are colored red and the non-metals are colored yellow). These elements are the non-metals. Everything else left of them are metals. The metals also include the two rows on the bottom of the periodic table that seem to be separate. Don’t forget that hydrogen falls into the non-metals. As you can see, most of the elements are metals. In general, metals are not very flexible (they are brittle) and non-metals are very flexible. To compare the two, I like to think of two common items that contain almost pure forms of either a metal or a non-metal. A cooking pot is made up of almost all metal (usually either iron or copper) and they are very difficult to bend and misshape so that is an example of how they are not very flexible. A rubber band is made up of almost all non-metal elements (mostly carbon and hydrogen) and they are very flexible. I am not very concerned that you know the properties of metals versus non-metals because it is not that useful for solving many problems in a standard chemistry class. The information that I mention in the next paragraph is far more important.


The division between the metals and non-metals is most often called the step-stair. They call it that because the line between the metals and non-metals looks like a set of stairs. The main purpose of this section is to be able to identify metals versus non-metals if you have a periodic table in front of you. So if you are givenan element like sulfur, then you would say it is a non-metal. If you are given an element like magnesium, you would say it is a metal. This skill will come in handy, especially in the first half of your chemistry class.


Examples: Using a periodic table, state whether these elements are metals or non-metals.

Nickle Metal
Uranium Metal
Phosphorus Non-metal


PRACTICE PROBLEMS: Using a periodic table. state whether these elements are metals or non-metals.

Beryllium Metal
Zinc Metal
Iodine Non-metal
Carbon Non-metal
Manganese Metal
Argon Non-metal


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