Metallic Character Properties and Trends

How to Tell if an Element Is Metallic by Reading the Periodic Table

Metallic character refers to chemical properties associated with metals.
Metallic character refers to chemical properties associated with metals. Clive Streeter / Getty Images

Not all metallic elements are alike, but all share certain qualities. Learn what is meant by the metallic character of an element and how metallic character changes as you move across a period or down a group in the periodic table.

What Is Metallic Character?

Metallic character is the name given to the set of chemical properties associated with elements that are metals. These chemicals properties result from how readily metals lose their electrons to form cations (positively charged ions).

Physical properties associated with metallic character include metallic luster, shiny appearance, high density, high thermal conductivity, and high electrical conductivity. Most metals are malleable and ductile and can be deformed without breaking. Although many metals are hard and dense, there is actually a wide range of values for these properties, even for elements that are considered highly metallic.

Metallic Character and Periodic Table Trends

There are trends in metallic character as you move across and down the periodic table. Metallic character decreases as you move across a period in the periodic table from left to right. This occurs as atoms more readily accept electrons to fill a valence shell than lose them to remove the unfilled shell. Metallic character increases as you move down an element group in the periodic table. This is because electrons become easier to lose as the atomic radius increases, where there is less attraction between the nucleus and the valence electrons because of the increased distance between them.

Recognizing Elements With Metallic Character

You can use the periodic table to predict whether or not an element will display metallic character, even if you don't know anything about it. Here's what you need to know:

  • Metallic character is displayed by metals, which are all on the left-hand side of the periodic table. The exception is hydrogen, which is a nonmetal under ordinary conditions. Even hydrogen behaves as a metal when it's a liquid or solid, but you should consider it nonmetallic for most purposes.
  • Elements with metallic character occur in certain groups or columns of elements, including the alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, transition metals (including the lanthanide and actinides below the main body of the periodic table), and the basic metals. Other categories of metals include base metals, noble metals, ferrous metals, heavy metals, and precious metals. The metalloids display some metallic character, but this group of elements also has nonmetallic properties.

Examples of Elements With Metallic Character

Metals that display their character well include:

  • francium (element with highest metallic character)
  • cesium (next highest level of metallic character)
  • sodium
  • copper
  • silver
  • iron
  • gold
  • aluminum

Alloys and Metallic Character

Although the term is typically applied to pure elements, alloys may also display metallic character. For example, bronze and most alloys of copper, magnesium, aluminum, and titanium typically display a high level of metallicity. Some metallic alloys consist purely of metals, but most also contain metalloids and nonmetals, yet retain the properties of metals.