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Metallic and Non-metallic Character of Elements - Characteristics, Trends, Practice Problems and FAQ

Metallic and Non-metallic Character of Elements - Characteristics, Trends, Practice Problems and FAQ

We know that atoms make up elements, just like human beings, like you and me, are essentially made up of cells!

Despite being made up of the same material, human beings have such vividness and variety in their qualities, properties, and physical attributes! Some of us are physically powerful, hefty, and well-built. Some of us have straight hair strands and some of us have curly tresses!

The same is true of elements! Various characteristics, with some property patterns in common. Some are as glistening and vibrant as gold! Some, like oxygen, are gaseous and colourless! Some, like the reddish-brown bromine or the gleaming mercury, are liquids!

Based on their nature, elements in the periodic table can be classified broadly into metals, metalloids, and nonmetals. Around 78% of the elements are metals. So, the maximum space is occupied by metals in the periodic table. s, d, and f-block consist of mostly metals. However, in the p-block, metals, nonmetals as well as metalloids are present.

modern periodic table


  • Characteristics of Metals
  • Characteristics of Non-metals
  • Characteristics of Metalloids
  • Trends in Metallic and Non-metallic Characteristics in the Periodic Tale
  • Practice Problems
  • Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ

Characteristics of Metals

  • Metals are defined as those substances or elements that have high electrical and thermal conductivity and are characterised by features like malleability, ductility, and lustrousness.
  • The metallic character is the tendency of an element to lose electrons and form positive ions or cations. Alkali metals are the most electropositive elements.
  • Metallic character corresponds to the extent of reactivity of a particular element. Metals generally lose electrons in chemical reactions and form cations. This is indicated by their low ionisation enthalpies.
  • In a compound, metal atoms have relatively less attraction for electrons, and this is indicated by their low electronegativity values. 

On observing the trend in the figure given below, we can see that the most reactive metals would reside in the lower-left position of the periodic table. The most reactive metal is caesium, which is not found in nature as a free element. It reacts explosively with water and would ignite spontaneously in the air if present freely. Francium is below caesium in the alkali metal group but is too rare to be observed displaying its metallic properties.

trends across periodic table

  • Examples of reactivity of metals are based on certain reactions such as the formation of halide compounds on reacting with halogens and the ease with which they can displace hydrogen from dilute acids.

Mg + HCl → MgCl2 + H2
Fe + H2SO4 → FeSO4 + H2

Some features of metals are:

  • At room temperature, metals are usually solids. Mercury, Gallium and Cesium are liquid at room temperature.
  • Metals generally have high boiling and melting points.
  • They are shiny and have a metallic lustre.
  • They are good conductors of heat and electricity.
  • They are malleable, that is, they can be hammered into thin sheets.
  • They are ductile, that is, they can be drawn into wires.
  • Metals tend to lose electrons easily and hence are good reducing agents.
  • Metals react with oxygen to form metal oxides which are generally basic in nature.
  • Metals like sodium, potassium, lithium and calcium react vigorously with dilute HCl and H2SO4 to form their metal salt and hydrogen.

Characteristics of Non-metals

  • Non-metals are defined as those elements which lack metallic properties like malleability, ductility, electrical conductivity etc. They can be either solid, liquid or gas. They are present on the upper right side of the periodic table.
  • The non-metallic character is the tendency of an element to accept electrons and form negative ions or anions. Chlorine and oxygen are the most electronegative elements.
  • Non-metals tend to gain electrons and form anions in any chemical reaction as they have a high attraction for electrons within a compound. 
  • They have higher electronegativity values, higher ionisation enthalpies and greater electron affinity.
  • The most reactive non-metals are present in the upper right position of the periodic table.
  • Since the noble gases are a special group because of their lack of reactivity, the element fluorine is the most reactive nonmetal. It is not found in nature as a free element.
  • Fluorine gas reacts explosively with many other elements and compounds and is considered to be one of the most dangerous known substances.

Some features of non-metals are:

  • Most nonmetals are brittle and are not malleable or ductile.
  • At room temperature, they are usually solids or gases.
  • They usually have low boiling and melting points (except for carbon and boron).
  • They are poor conductors of heat and electricity.
  • They are usually less dense when compared to metals.
  • They tend to gain electrons during chemical reactions.


Characteristics of Metalloids

  • Metalloids are defined as those elements that have some properties of metals as well as non-metals. Hence, they are also known as semi-metals.
  • Boron, silicon, germanium, arsenic, antimony, and tellurium are the most commonly recognised metalloids.
  • These elements run diagonally across the Periodic Table.
  • They may have a metallic or dull appearance.
  • They are usually brittle and are fair conductors of electricity.
  • They may gain or lose electrons during chemical reactions.
  • They form alloys with metals.
  • They are used as catalysts, biological agents, flame retardants, alloys and semiconductors in industries due to their unique properties

Trends in Metallic and Non-metallic Characteristics in the Periodic Tale

  • Metallic character decreases as you move from left to right across a period in the periodic table. 
  • This occurs as atoms more readily accept electrons to fill a valence shell than lose them to remove the unfilled shell.
  • The metallic character increases as we go down a group. Since the ionisation energy decreases going down a group (or increases going up a group), there is an increased ability for metals lower in a group to lose electrons makes them more reactive.
  • In addition, the atomic radius increases going down a group, placing the outer electrons further away from the nucleus and making that electron less attracted by the nucleus. So, metals become more reactive as we go down the group.
  • The tendency to gain electrons increases on moving across a period due to an increase in the nuclear charge and decrease in the atomic size. Hence, the non-metallic character increases across a period. As we move down the group, the non-metallic character decreases due to the increase in atomic size.

Example - Considering the atomic number and position in the periodic table, arrange the following elements in the increasing order of metallic character: Si, Be, Mg, Na, P.

Metallic character increases down a group and decreases along a period as we move from left to right. Hence, the order of increasing metallic character is P < Si < Be < Mg < Na.

Practice Problems

Q1. What happens to the elements as you move from right to left on the periodic table?

  1. They become less metallic
  2. They become more metallic
  3. They become metalloids
  4. Nothing happens

Answer: On moving from right to left across a period, metallic nature increases owing to the increase in atomic radii.

So, option B) is the correct answer.

Q2. Which one is a metalloid?

  1. Americium
  2. Arsenic
  3. Gallium
  4. Bismuth

Answer: Arsenic is a metalloid, with intermediate chemical and physical properties to those of metals and non-metals. 

So, option B) is the correct answer.. 

Q3. Metals are

  1. Good reducing agents
  2. Good oxidising agents
  3. Have negative oxidation states
  4. Non-reactive in nature

Answer: Metals have low ionisation potential and hence they readily lose electrons to form cations. Hence, they are good reducing agents.

So, option A) is the correct answer.

Q4. A mixture of two or more metals is termed as

  1. Composite
  2. Rust
  3. Alloy
  4. Conglomerate

Answer: A mixture of two or more metals is known as an alloy. Example: Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.

So, option C) is the correct answer.

Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ

Question 1. What is the difference between non-metals and metalloids?
Answer: Metalloids are somewhat metallic-looking, but are brittle solids with semiconductor-like properties. They are generally amphoteric and form weak acidic oxides. 

Non-metals exist in all three states of matter. The majority are gases, such as nitrogen and oxygen. Bromine is a liquid. A few are solids, such as carbon and sulfur. They are brittle when solid and are weak heat and electricity conductors and have acidic oxides. 

Metals on the contrary are lustrous, malleable, ductile, and good conductors of heat and electricity.

Question 2. Is copper a metal, nonmetal or metalloid?
Answer: Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu (Latin: Cuprum) symbol. Its atomic number is 29. It has very high thermal and electrical conductivity and is a thin, malleable and ductile material. A pure copper freshly exposed layer has a pink-orange colour. So, it acts as metal.

Question 3. Why does the metallic character increase as you go down a group?
Answer: As we go down the group, the effective nuclear charge decreases due to the increase in atomic radii and hence, the valence electrons can be readily lost. Owing to this property, the metallic nature of elements down the group increases.

Question 4. What is the trend in non-metallic characters on moving from left to right across the periodic table?
Answer: Across a period, there is an increase in the effective nuclear charge as the number of electrons keeps increasing, whereas the number of shells is constant. Hence, there is a decrease in the atomic size, which further increases the tendency to gain electrons. Hence, the non-metallic character increases across a period.

Question 5. Is plastic a non-metal?
Answer: The elements in the periodic table are classified as metal and non-metals. Plastic is not an element but a polymer consisting of various non-metals such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and so on.

Related Topics

Successive Ionisation Enthalpy


Modern Periodic Table

Alkali Metals

Factors affecting electronegativity

Factors affecting Electron gain Enthalpy

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