Examples and Uses of Metals and Nonmetals

What's the difference between a metal and a nonmetal?

Most metals are lustrous gray solids, like this chunk of zinc. Some nonmetals are colored solids or form liquids and gases at room temperature.
Most metals are lustrous gray solids, like this chunk of zinc. Some nonmetals are colored solids or form liquids and gases at room temperature. Bar?s Muratoglu / Getty Images

Most elements are metals, but quite a few are nonmetals. It's important to be able to distinguish between the different types of elements. Here is a list of five metals and five nonmetals, an explanation of how you can tell them apart, and some examples of their uses.

Five Nonmetals

The nonmetals are located on the upper right-hand side of the periodic table. Nonmetals typically are poor electrical and thermal conductors, without a metallic luster. They may be found as solids, liquids, or gases under ordinary conditions. Examples include:

  1. nitrogen
  2. oxygen
  3. helium
  4. sulfur
  5. chlorine

Five Metals

Metals usually are hard, dense conductors, often exhibiting a shiny metallic luster. Metallic elements readily lose electrons to form positive ions. Except for mercury, metals are solids at room temperature and pressure. Examples include:

  1. iron
  2. uranium
  3. sodium
  4. aluminum
  5. calcium

How to Tell Nonmetals and Metals Apart

The easiest way to identify whether an element is a metal or nonmetal is to find its position on the periodic table. There is a zigzag line that runs down the right side of the table. Elements on this line are metalloids or semimetals, which have properties intermediate between those of metals and nonmetals. Every element located to the right of this line is a nonmetal. All other elements (most elements) are metals. The only exception is hydrogen, which is considered a nonmetal in its gaseous state at room temperature and pressure. The two rows of elements below the body of the periodic table also are metals. Basically, about 75 percent of elements are metals, so if you're given an unknown element and asked to make a guess, go with a metal.

Element names can be a clue, too. Many metals have names ending with -ium (examples: beryllium, titanium). Nonmetals may have names ending with -gen, -ine, or -on (examples: hydrogen, oxygen, chlorine, argon).

Uses for Metals and Nonmetals

Metals' uses are directly linked to their qualities. For example:

  • Shiny metals such as copper, silver, and gold are often used for decorative arts, jewelry, and coins.
  • Strong metals such as iron and metal alloys such as stainless steel are used to build structures, ships, and vehicles such as cars, trains, and trucks.
  • Some metals have specific qualities that dictate their use. For example, copper is a good choice for wiring because it is particularly good for conducting electricity. Tungsten is used for the filaments of light bulbs because it glows white hot without melting.

Nonmetals are both plentiful and useful. Some of the most commonly used include:

  • Oxygen, a gas, is absolutely essential to human life. Not only do we breathe it and use it for medical purposes, but we also use it as an important element in combustion.
  • Sulphur is valued for its medical properties and is also an important ingredient in many chemical solutions. Sulfuric acid is an important tool for industry: It is used in batteries and in manufacturing.
  • Chlorine, a nonmetal, is a powerful disinfectant. It is used to purify drinking water and swimming pools.