Important Differences between Element and Compound


An element is a fundamental substance that consists of only one type of atom. Each element is uniquely defined by its atomic number, which corresponds to the number of protons in the nucleus of its atoms. Elements cannot be broken down into simpler substances by chemical means. They are the building blocks of matter and are organized in the periodic table based on their atomic properties. Elements exhibit characteristic physical and chemical properties, including atomic mass, density, melting and boiling points, and reactivity. There are currently 118 known elements, ranging from hydrogen, the lightest, to oganesson, the heaviest. Elements combine to form compounds, giving rise to the incredible diversity of substances found in the universe.

Properties of elements

  • Atomic Number:

This is the unique identifier of an element, representing the number of protons in its nucleus. It determines the element’s chemical identity.

  • Atomic Mass:

The total mass of an atom, including protons, neutrons, and electrons. It is measured in atomic mass units (amu).

  • Electronic Configuration:

Describes how electrons are arranged in energy levels (shells) around the nucleus. It influences an element’s reactivity.

  • Physical State:

Elements can exist in various states at room temperature – solid, liquid, or gas.

  • Density:

The mass of an element per unit volume. It can vary widely among elements.

  • Melting and Boiling Points:

These temperatures indicate when an element changes its state from solid to liquid (melting) and from liquid to gas (boiling).

  • Electronegativity:

The ability of an atom to attract shared electrons in a covalent bond. It influences bond type and polarity.

  • Ionization Energy:

The energy required to remove an electron from an atom. High ionization energy indicates strong electron affinity.

  • Electron Affinity:

The energy change when an electron is added to an atom. It reflects the atom’s tendency to accept electrons.

  • Metallicity:

Elements are classified as metals, non-metals, or metalloids based on their physical and chemical properties.

  • Reactivity:

This property indicates how readily an element forms compounds with other elements. Noble gases are least reactive, while alkali metals are highly reactive.

  • Magnetic Properties:

Some elements exhibit magnetic behavior, influenced by their electron configurations.

  • Radioactivity:

Certain elements have unstable nuclei and undergo radioactive decay, emitting radiation.

  • Isotopes:

Elements may have different forms (isotopes) with the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons.

  • Allotropes:

Some elements can exist in different forms in the same physical state. For example, carbon can be found as graphite, diamond, and fullerene.

Classification of Elements

  • Metals:

Properties: Generally solid at room temperature (except for mercury), lustrous, good conductors of heat and electricity, malleable, and ductile.

Examples: Iron (Fe), Copper (Cu), Gold (Au).

  • NonMetals:

Properties: Varied states at room temperature (can be solids, liquids, or gases), poor conductors of heat and electricity, often brittle.

Examples: Oxygen (O), Carbon (C), Nitrogen (N).

  • Metalloids (Semimetals):

Properties: Have characteristics of both metals and non-metals. They are intermediate in terms of conductivity, and their properties can be adjusted by changing conditions.

Examples: Silicon (Si), Boron (B), Germanium (Ge).

  • Noble Gases:

Properties: Gases at room temperature, highly stable and unreactive due to full valence electron shells.

Examples: Helium (He), Neon (Ne), Argon (Ar).

  • Alkali Metals:

Properties: Very reactive metals, soft, low density, and have a single valence electron.

Examples: Lithium (Li), Sodium (Na), Potassium (K).

  • Alkaline Earth Metals:

Properties: Reactive metals, harder and denser than alkali metals, two valence electrons.

Examples: Beryllium (Be), Magnesium (Mg), Calcium (Ca).

  • Transition Metals:

Properties: Diverse properties, varying reactivity, form colorful compounds, and can have multiple oxidation states.

Examples: Iron (Fe), Copper (Cu), Nickel (Ni).

  • Halogens:

Properties: Highly reactive non-metals, often form salts with metals, and have seven valence electrons.

Examples: Fluorine (F), Chlorine (Cl), Bromine (Br).

  • Lanthanides:

Properties: Rare earth metals, generally similar properties, often used in industrial applications.

Examples: Cerium (Ce), Gadolinium (Gd), Lutetium (Lu).

  • Actinides:

Properties: Radioactive metals, most are synthetic and not naturally occurring, some have practical applications.

Examples: Uranium (U), Plutonium (Pu), Curium (Cm).


A compound is a substance composed of two or more different elements chemically bonded together in fixed ratios. These elements are held together by chemical bonds, resulting in a distinct and unique substance with properties different from its constituent elements. Compounds have a specific chemical formula that represents the types and numbers of atoms present. For example, water (H₂O) is a compound consisting of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Compounds can be simple, like common salt (NaCl), or complex, like DNA or pharmaceutical drugs. They can exist in various states (solid, liquid, gas) depending on their composition and environmental conditions. Compounds are fundamental to chemistry and play a crucial role in the diversity of substances found in the natural world.

Properties of Compound

  • Chemical Composition:

Compounds have a fixed chemical formula, indicating the types and ratios of atoms present.

  • Chemical Bonds:

They are formed by chemical bonds (covalent, ionic, or metallic) between atoms of different elements.

  • Unique Properties:

Compounds have distinct physical and chemical properties that differ from those of the individual elements.

  • Melting and Boiling Points:

Compounds have specific melting and boiling points, which depend on the strength and type of intermolecular forces.

  • Solubility:

Some compounds are soluble in certain solvents, while others are insoluble, depending on their polarity and intermolecular interactions.

  • Conductivity:

Most compounds are non-conductive in their solid state. However, some can conduct electricity when molten or dissolved in water.

  • Molecular Structure:

Compounds can have complex three-dimensional structures, influencing their reactivity and physical properties.

  • Stoichiometry:

The ratio of atoms in a compound is fixed and follows the law of definite proportions.

  • Isomerism:

Some compounds can exist in different structural arrangements, known as isomers, which have distinct properties.

  • Reactivity:

Compounds can undergo chemical reactions to form new compounds with different properties.

  • Density:

The density of a compound depends on the arrangement of its atoms and the masses of its constituent elements.

  • Heat of Formation:

Compounds have specific heat of formation values, indicating the energy released or absorbed during their formation.

  • Color and Appearance:

Compounds can have distinct colors and appearances, which are influenced by their electronic structure.

  • Toxicity and Hazardous Properties:

Some compounds may have toxic or hazardous properties, depending on their chemical structure and reactivity.

  • Specific Applications:

Compounds have diverse applications in various fields, including pharmaceuticals, agriculture, materials science, and more.

Types of Compound

  • Ionic Compounds:

Formed by the electrostatic attraction between positively and negatively charged ions.

Consist of metal cations and non-metal anions.

Examples: NaCl (Sodium Chloride), CaCO₃ (Calcium Carbonate).

  • Covalent Compounds (Molecular Compounds):

Formed by the sharing of electrons between atoms.

Consist of non-metal atoms.

Examples: H₂O (Water), CH₄ (Methane).

  • Acids:

Compounds that release hydrogen ions (H⁺) when dissolved in water.

Defined by their ability to donate protons (H⁺ ions) in a chemical reaction.

Examples: HCl (Hydrochloric Acid), H₂SO₄ (Sulfuric Acid).

  • Bases:

Compounds that release hydroxide ions (OH⁻) when dissolved in water.

Defined by their ability to accept protons (H⁺ ions) in a chemical reaction.

Examples: NaOH (Sodium Hydroxide), KOH (Potassium Hydroxide).

  • Salts:

Ionic compounds formed by the reaction between an acid and a base.

Consist of a metal cation and a non-metal anion.

Examples: Na₂SO₄ (Sodium Sulfate), KNO₃ (Potassium Nitrate).

  • Organic Compounds:

Compounds containing carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen and other elements.

Form the basis of all living organisms and have diverse applications.

Examples: Glucose, Ethanol, DNA.

  • Inorganic Compounds:

Compounds that do not contain carbon-hydrogen (C-H) bonds.

Include minerals, metals, and various other compounds.

Examples: NaCl (Sodium Chloride), Fe₂O₃ (Iron Oxide).

  • Complex Compounds (Coordination Compounds):

Consist of a central metal atom or ion bonded to surrounding ligands (molecules or ions).

Formed through coordinate covalent bonds.

Examples: [Fe(CN)₆]³⁻ (Ferricyanide), [Co(NH₃)₆]³⁺ (Hexaamminecobalt(III)).

  • Binary Compounds:

Composed of two different elements.

Can be ionic or covalent, depending on the type of bond.

Examples: Na₂O (Sodium Oxide), CO₂ (Carbon Dioxide).

  • Polyatomic Compounds:

Composed of multiple atoms bonded together as a single unit (ion or molecule).

Can be ionic or covalent.

Examples: NH₄⁺ (Ammonium Ion), SO₄²⁻ (Sulfate Ion).

Important Differences between an Element and a Compound

Basis of Comparison Element Compound
Definition Pure substance with one atom type Combination of different atoms
Composition Consists of identical atoms Contains different types of atoms
Chemical Formula Represented by one symbol Represented by multiple symbols
Types of Atoms Only one type of atom Two or more types of atoms
Chemical Properties Determined by atom’s properties Unique to specific combination
Physical State Can be solid, liquid, or gas Depends on constituent elements
Separation Methods Requires nuclear reactions Can be separated by chemical means
Examples Hydrogen, Oxygen, Gold Water (H₂O), Carbon Dioxide (CO₂)
Atomic Number Unique to each element N/A (applies to atoms)
Atomic Mass Specific to each element Combined masses of constituent atoms
Occurrence Naturally occurring or synthetic Created through chemical reactions
Purity Always pure May be mixtures of compounds
Properties Intrinsic to the element Emergent from constituent atoms
Reactivity Based on element’s electron arrangement Based on compound’s composition
Mixtures Can form homogeneous mixtures Constituent elements can form mixtures

Important Similarities between Element and Compound

  • Chemical Composition:

Both elements and compounds consist of atoms.

  • Atoms:

Both elements and compounds are made up of atoms, which are the basic units of matter.

  • Electrons, Protons, and Neutrons:

Both elements and compounds are composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons.

  • Matter:

Both elements and compounds are forms of matter, which makes up everything in the universe.

  • Can Exist in Different States:

Both elements and compounds can exist in different states (solid, liquid, gas) depending on factors like temperature and pressure.

  • Can Be Part of Mixtures:

Both elements and compounds can be part of mixtures, where they are physically combined with other substances.

  • Can Undergo Chemical Reactions:

Both elements and compounds can undergo chemical reactions to form new substances with different properties.

  • Can Form Bonds:

Elements can form chemical bonds with other elements to create compounds.

  • Have Unique Properties:

Each element and compound has its own set of unique properties that define its behavior and characteristics.

  • Have Specific Names and Symbols:

Each element and compound is identified by its specific name and chemical symbol.

  • Can Be Represented in the Periodic Table:

Elements are organized in the periodic table based on their properties, and compounds can be represented by chemical formulas.

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