Metals vs non-metals

Metals and non-metals can be identified either by their position in the periodic table or by their properties.

Metals and non-metals in the periodic table

The metal elements are found on the left hand side of the periodic table, and the non-metal elements are found on the right. You can imagine a zig-zag line, starting at B-Al-Si, separating metals from non-metals.

Period table with metals coloured red and non-metals coloured yellow.The modern periodic table with some elements left out for simplicity

Physical properties of metals and non-metals

The table summarises some typical properties of metals and non-metals.

MetalsNon-metals
ShinyDull
High melting pointsLow boiling points
Good conductors of electricityPoor conductors of electricity
High densityLow density
MalleableBrittle

Most metals have high melting points and are therefore in the solid state at room temperature.

Most non-metals have low melting points are not in the solid state at room temperature.

Some elements have properties that are not typical. For example:

  • Mercury (a metal) has a low melting point and exists in the liquid state at room temperature.
  • Graphite, a form of carbon (a non-metal), has a high boiling point and exists in the solid state at room temperature. It is also a good conductor of electricity.

A substance with a high density means it has a high mass for its volume. Malleable substances can be bent or hammered into shape without shattering, whereas brittle substances shatter when bent or hit.