Nonmetals - Definition and Properties

What You Need To Know About the Nonmetals Element Group

Nitrogen is one of the nonmetals.
Cultura / Getty Images

As far as elements are concerned, a nonmetal is simply an element that does not display the properties of a metal. It is not defined by what it is, but by what it is not. It doesn't look metallic, can't be drawn into a wire or pounded into shape or bent, doesn't conduct heat or electricity well, and doesn't have a high melting or boiling point.

The nonmetals are in the minority on the periodic table, mostly pushed to the right hand side of the periodic table.

The exception is hydrogen, which behaves as a nonmetal at room temperature and pressure and is found on the upper left corner of the periodic table. Here's a look at which elements are nonmetals, how to locate the nonmetals on the table, and their common properties.

Location on the Nonmetals on the Periodic Table

The nonmetals are located on the upper right side of the periodic table. Nonmetals are separated from metals by a line that cuts diagonally through the region of the periodic table containing elements with partially filled p orbitals. The halogens and noble gases are nonmetals, but the nonmetal element group usually is considered to consist of the following elements:

  • hydrogen
  • carbon
  • nitrogen
  • oxygen
  • phosphorus
  • sulfur
  • selenium

The halogen elements are:

  • fluorine
  • chlorine
  • bromine
  • iodine
  • astatine
  • Possibly element 117, although most scientists think this element will behave as a metalloid.

The noble gas elements are:

  • helium
  • neon
  • argon
  • krypton
  • xenon
  • radon
  • element 118

Properties of Nonmetals

Nonmetals have high ionization energies and electronegativities. They are generally poor conductors of heat and electricity. Solid nonmetals are generally brittle, with little or no metallic luster. Most nonmetals have the ability to gain electrons easily.

Nonmetals display a wide range of chemical properties and reactivities.

Summary of Common Properties

  • High ionization energies
  • High electronegativities
  • Poor thermal conductors
  • Poor electrical conductors
  • Brittle solids - not malleable or ductile
  • Little or no metallic luster
  • Gain electrons easily
  • Dull, not metallic-shiny, although they may be colorful
  • Lower melting points and boiling point than the metals

Comparing the Metals and Nonmetals

Here's a comparison of the physical and chemical properties of the metals and nonmetals. These properties apply to the metals in general (alkali metals, alkaline earth, transition metals, basic metals, lanthanides, actinides) and nonmetals in general (nonmetals, halogens, noble gases).

chemical propertieseasily lose valence electronseasily share or gain valence electrons
 1-3 electrons (usually) in the outer shell4-8 electrons in the outer shell (7 for halogens and 8 for noble gases)
 form basic oxidesform acidic oxides
 good reducing agentsgood oxidizing agents
 have low electronegativityhave higher electronegativity
physical propertiessolid at room temperature (except mercury)may be liquid, solid, or gas (noble gases are gases)
 have metallic lusterdo not have metallic luster
 good conductor of heat and electricitypoor conductor of heat and electricity
 typically malleable and ductileusually brittle
 opaque in a thin sheettransparent in a thin sheet

Metals | Nonmetals | Metalloids | Alkali Metals | Alkaline Earths | Transition Metals | Halogens | Noble Gases | Rare Earths | Lanthanides | Actinides