Learn How to Categorize the Different Types of Solids

Close-Up Of Amethysts
Joanna Cepuchowicz / EyeEm / Getty Images

In the broadest sense, solids may be categorized as either crystalline solids or amorphous solids, but usually, 6 main types of solids are recognized, each characterized by specific properties and structures. Here is a look at the main types of solids:

Ionic Solids

Ionic solids form when electrostatic attraction sticks together anions and cations to form a crystal lattice. In an ionic crystal, each ion is surrounded by ions having an opposite charge.

Ionic crystals are extremely stable since considerable energy is required to break ionic bonds.

Example: table salt or sodium chloride

Metallic Solids

Positively charged nuclei of metal atoms are held together by valence electrons to form metallic solids. The electrons are considered to be "delocalized" because they aren't bound to any particular atoms, as in covalent bonds. Delocalized electrons can move throughout the solid. This is the "electron sea model" of metallic solids. Positive nuclei float in a sea of negative electrons. Metals are characterized by high thermal and electrical conductivity and are typically hard, shiny and ductile.

Example: almost all metals and their alloys, such as gold, brass, steel

Network Atomic Solids

This type of solid also is known simply as a network solid. Network atomic solids are huge crystals consisting of atoms held together by covalent bonds. Many gemstones are network atomic solids.

Example: diamond, amethyst, ruby

Atomic Solids

Atomic solids form when weak London dispersion forces bind atoms of cold noble gasses.

Example: These solids are not seen in everyday life since they require extremely low temperatures. An example would be solid krypton or solid argon.

Molecular Solids

Covalent molecules are held together by intermolecular forces to form molecular solids.

While the intermolecular forces are strong enough to hold the molecules in place, molecular solids typically have lower melting and boiling points than metallic, ionic, or network atomic solids, which are held together by stronger bonds.

Example: water ice

Amorphous Solids

Unlike all of the other types of solids, amorphous solids do not exhibit a crystal structure. This type of solid is characterized by having an irregular bonding pattern. Amorphous solids may be soft and rubbery when they are formed by long molecules, tangled together and held by intermolecular forces. Glassy solids are hard and brittle, formed by atoms irregularly joined by covalent bonds.

Examples: plastic, glass