Nonmetal

In chemistry, a nonmetal (or non-metal) is a chemical element that is either a gas, liquid or brittle solid in its most stable form and which usually gains or shares electrons in chemical reactions. Typical nonmetals have a dull appearance, relatively low melting points, boiling points, and densities, and are poor conductors of heat and electricity. Chemically, nonmetals tend to have higher values of ionization energy, electron affinity, and electronegativity, and their oxides are acidic. Most or some nonmetals share a range of other properties; a few have properties that are anomalous.

Periodic table extract showing nonmetallic elements (including the metalloids). H is normally placed over Li in Group 1. It is shown here over F for comparative purposes. The asterisks show further alternative positions for H.[1] Nearby metals are shown with light-gray lettering, as are elements whose bulk chemistry is not well attested.

Of the twenty-three elements generally counted as having nonmetallic properties many are gases: hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon, chlorine, argon, krypton, xenon and radon; one is a liquid: bromine; and as many are solids: carbon, phosphorus, sulfur and selenium, iodine, and the six elements commonly recognized as metalloids (which behave chemically predominately as nonmetals).

Three or four subclasses of nonmetals can be discerned: nonmetal halogens; noble gases; unclassified nonmetals; and (possibly) metalloids. The latter may or may not be recognized as a class separate from both metals and nonmetals. For comparative purposes they are treated here as nonmetallic elements—or a kind of nonmetal—given their predominately weak nonmetallic chemistry. The unclassified nonmetals, on a net basis, are moderately nonmetallic. The nonmetal halogens are more electronegative, and characterized by stronger nonmetallic properties and a tendency to form predominantly ionic compounds with metals. The noble gases are distinguished by their reluctance to form compounds.

The distinction between nonmetal subclasses is not absolute. Boundary overlaps, including with the metalloids, occur as outlying elements among each nonmetal subclass show or begin to show less-distinct, hybrid-like, or atypical properties.

Although five times more elements are metals than nonmetals, two of the nonmetals—hydrogen and helium—make up over 98 percent of the observable universe.[2] Another nonmetal, oxygen, makes up almost half of the Earth's crust, oceans, and atmosphere.[3] Living organisms are composed almost entirely of the nonmetals hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen.[4] Nonmetals form many more compounds than do metals.[5]

Definition and applicable elements

There is no rigorous definition of a nonmetal. Broadly, any element lacking a preponderance of metallic properties can be regarded as a nonmetal. Since metalloids lack such a preponderance, and are more closely allied to the non-metals in their chemical behavior,[6] they are here counted as such including for comparative purposes.[n 1] Some variation may be encountered among authors as to which elements are regarded as nonmetals.

The twenty-three elements counted as nonmetals in this article number one in group 1 (hydrogen); one in group 13 (boron); three in group 14 (carbon, silicon, and germanium); four in group 15 (nitrogen, phosphorus, arsenic, and antimony); four in group 16 (oxygen, sulfur, selenium, and tellurium); most of group 17 (fluorine, chlorine, bromine and iodine); and all the natural elements of group 18.

Origin and use of the term

A basic taxonomy of matter showing the hierarchical location of nonmetals.[12] Some authors divide the elements into metals, metalloids, and nonmetals (although, on ontological grounds, anything not a metal is a nonmetal).[13]

The distinction between metals and nonmetals arose, in a convoluted manner, from a crude recognition of natural kinds[n 2] of matter. Thus, matter could be divided into pure substances and mixtures; pure substances eventually could be distinguished as compounds and elements; and "metallic" elements seemed to have broadly distinguishable attributes that other elements did not, such as their ability to conduct heat or for their "earths" (oxides) to form basic solutions in water, quicklime CaO for example[15] (see the taxonomy table in this section). Use of the word "nonmetal" can be traced to as far back as Lavoisier's 1789 work Traité élémentaire de chimie in which he distinguished between simple metallic and nonmetallic substances.[n 3]

Properties

Atomic radii (Å) of the nonmetallic
elements in periods 1 to 6, by subclass[n 4]
Period Metalloid Unclassified
nonmetal
Nonmetal
halogen
Noble
gas
1 2.05 1.34
2 2.05 1.9 to 1.71 1.63 1.56
3 2.32 2.23 to 2.14 2.06 1.97
4 2.34 to 2.31 2.24 2.19 2.12
5 2.46 to 2.42 2.38 2.32
6 2.43
Average 2.23 1.94 2.10 1.96
On a period by period basis, atomic radii decrease from left right, corresponding to an increase in nonmetallic character.
The unclassified nonmetals have the smallest average atomic radius of the four subclasses since: (i) they number four period 1 and 2 nonmetals, whereas the metalloids and nonmetal halogens include just one period 2 nonmetal, and while the noble gases have one period 1 nonmetal, they have one in period 5 and one in period 6; and (ii) they have anomalously small radii for the reasons set out in the complications subsection.
Property spans and average values
for the subclasses of nonmetallic elements
Property Metalloid Unclassified
nonmetal
Nonmetal
halogen
Noble
gas
Ionization energy (kJ mol−1)
Span 768 to 953 947 to 1,320 1,015 to 1,687 1,037 to 2,372
Average 855 1,158 1,276 1,590
Electron affinity (kJ mol−1)
Span 27 to 190 −0.07 to 200 295 to 349 −120 to −50
Average 108 134 324 −79
Electronegativity (Allred-Rochow)
Span 1.9 to 2.18 2.19 to 3.44 2.66 to 3.98 2.1 to 5.2
Average 2.05 2.65 3.19 3.38
Standard reduction potential (V)
Span −0.91 to 0.93 0.00 to 2.08 0.53 to 2.87 2.12 to 2.26
Average −0.09 0.55 1.48 2.26
Average values of ionization energy, electron affinity, electronegativity,[n 5] and standard reduction potential generally show a left to right increase consistent with increased nonmetallic character.
Electron affinity values collapse at the noble gases due to their filled outer orbitals. Electron affinity can be defined as, "the energy required to remove the electron of a gaseous anion of −1 charge to produce a gaseous atom of that element e.g. Cl(g) → e = 348.8 kJ mol−1"; the zeroth ionization energy, in other words.[18]
The standard reduction potentials are for stable species in water, at pH 0, within the range -3 to 3 V.[19][n 6] The values in the noble gas column are for xenon only.
For contrasts between the subclasses mentioned in the tables here, see § Subclasses and Properties of nonmetals (and metalloids) by group

Physically, nearly all nonmetals exist as either diatomic or monatomic gases, or polyatomic solids having more substantial (open-packed) forms, and have relatively small atomic radii. Metals, in contrast, are nearly all solid and close-packed, and mostly have larger atomic radii.[20] If solid, nonmetals have a submetallic appearance (with the exception of sulfur) and are brittle, as opposed to metals, which are lustrous, and generally ductile or malleable. They usually have lower densities than metals; are mostly poorer conductors of heat and electricity; and tend to have significantly lower melting points and boiling points than those of most metals.[21]

Chemically, the nonmetals mostly have higher ionization energies, higher electron affinities (nitrogen and the noble gases have negative electron affinities), higher electronegativity values, and higher standard reduction potentials than metals. Here, and in general, the higher an element's ionization energy, electron affinity, electronegativity, or standard reduction potentials, the more nonmetallic that element is.[22] Nonmetals, including (to a limited extent) xenon and radon, usually exist as anions or oxyanions in aqueous solution;[23] they generally form ionic or covalent compounds when combined with metals (unlike metals, which mostly form alloys with other metals); and have acidic oxides whereas the common oxides of nearly all metals are basic.[24]

Complications

Complicating the chemistry of the nonmetals is the first row anomaly seen particularly in hydrogen, (boron), carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and fluorine; and the alternation effect seen in (arsenic), selenium and bromine.[25] The first row anomaly largely arises from the electron configurations of the elements concerned.

Hydrogen is noted for the different ways it forms bonds. It most commonly forms covalent bonds.[26] It can lose its single valence electron in aqueous solution, leaving behind a bare proton with tremendous polarizing power. This subsequently attaches itself to the lone electron pair of an oxygen atom in a water molecule, thereby forming the basis of acid-base chemistry.[27] A hydrogen atom in a molecule can form a second, weaker, bond with an atom or group of atoms in another molecule. Such bonding, "helps give snowflakes their hexagonal symmetry, binds DNA into a double helix; shapes the three-dimensional forms of proteins; and even raises water's boiling point high enough to make a decent cup of tea."[28]

From boron to neon, since the 2p subshell has no inner analogue and experiences no electron repulsion effects it consequently has a relatively small radius, unlike the 3p, 4p and 5p subshells of heavier elements[29] (a similar effect is seen in the 1s elements, hydrogen and helium). Ionization energies and electronegativities among these elements are consequently higher than would otherwise be expected, having regard to periodic trends. The small atomic radii of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen facilitates the formation of triple or double bonds.[30]

Period four elements immediately after the first row of the transition metals, such as selenium and bromine, have unusually small atomic radii because the 3d electrons are not effective at shielding the increased nuclear charge, and smaller atomic size correlates with higher electronegativity.[31]

The larger atomic radii of the heavier group 15–18 nonmetals, which enable higher bulk coordination numbers, and result in lower electronegativity values that better tolerate higher positive charges, means they are able to exhibit valences other than the lowest for their group (that is, 3, 2, 1, or 0) for example in PCl5, SF6, IF7, and XeF2.[32]

Subclasses

Crystals of black phosphorus, the most stable form, in a sealed ampoule. White phosphorus is the most unstable form.

Immediately to the left of most nonmetals on the periodic table are metalloids such as boron, silicon, and germanium, which generally behave chemically like (weak) nonmetals.[33] In this sense they can be regarded as the least nonmetallic or most metallic of the nonmetallic elements.

To the left of the noble gases are the nonmetal halogens (fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine) with their reactive and strongly electronegative character representing the epitome of nonmetallic character.[34][n 7]

The remaining (unclassified) nonmetals are hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur and selenium.

As with classification schemes generally, there is some variation and overlapping of properties within and across each subclass. One or more of the metalloids are sometimes formally classified as nonmetals.[36] Carbon, phosphorus, selenium, iodine border the metalloids and show some metallic character, as does hydrogen. Among the noble gases, radon is the most metallic and begins to show some cationic behavior, which is unusual for a nonmetal.[37]

For examples of other arrangements see List of alternative nonmetal classes

Metalloids

B, Si, Ge, As, Sb, Te
Hydrogen Helium
Lithium Beryllium Boron Carbon Nitrogen Oxygen Fluorine Neon
Sodium Magnesium Aluminium Silicon Phosphorus Sulfur Chlorine Argon
Potassium Calcium Scandium Titanium Vanadium Chromium Manganese Iron Cobalt Nickel Copper Zinc Gallium Germanium Arsenic Selenium Bromine Krypton
Rubidium Strontium Yttrium Zirconium Niobium Molybdenum Technetium Ruthenium Rhodium Palladium Silver Cadmium Indium Tin Antimony Tellurium Iodine Xenon
Caesium Barium Lanthanum Cerium Praseodymium Neodymium Promethium Samarium Europium Gadolinium Terbium Dysprosium Holmium Erbium Thulium Ytterbium Lutetium Hafnium Tantalum Tungsten Rhenium Osmium Iridium Platinum Gold Mercury (element) Thallium Lead Bismuth Polonium Astatine Radon
Francium Radium Actinium Thorium Protactinium Uranium Neptunium Plutonium Americium Curium Berkelium Californium Einsteinium Fermium Mendelevium Nobelium Lawrencium Rutherfordium Dubnium Seaborgium Bohrium Hassium Meitnerium Darmstadtium Roentgenium Copernicium Nihonium Flerovium Moscovium Livermorium Tennessine Oganesson

While classification practices for the metalloids vary they are included here to facilitate comparison with the nonmetals. In the literature, metalloid elements can be considered to be separate from both the metals and the nonmetals; grouped with the metals (due to some similarities of arsenic and antimony with heavy metals);[38] regarded as nonmetals rather than metalloids;[39] or treated as a sub-class of nonmetals.[40]

The six elements more commonly recognized as metalloids are boron, silicon, germanium, arsenic, antimony, and tellurium. On a standard periodic table, they occupy a diagonal area in the p-block extending from boron at the upper left to tellurium at lower right, along the dividing line between metals and nonmetals shown on some periodic tables.[41] They are called metalloids mainly in light of their metallic appearance.[42]

While they each have a metallic appearance, they are brittle and only fair conductors of electricity. Boron, silicon, germanium, tellurium are semiconductors. Arsenic and antimony have the electronic band structures of semimetals although both have less stable semiconducting allotropes.[43]

Chemically the metalloids generally behave like (weak) nonmetals. They have moderate ionization energies, electron affinities, electronegativity values, are moderately strong oxidizing agents, and demonstrate a tendency to form alloys with metals.[44]

Unclassified nonmetals

H, C, N, P, O, S, Se
Hydrogen Helium
Lithium Beryllium Boron Carbon Nitrogen Oxygen Fluorine Neon
Sodium Magnesium Aluminium Silicon Phosphorus Sulfur Chlorine Argon
Potassium Calcium Scandium Titanium Vanadium Chromium Manganese Iron Cobalt Nickel Copper Zinc Gallium Germanium Arsenic Selenium Bromine Krypton
Rubidium Strontium Yttrium Zirconium Niobium Molybdenum Technetium Ruthenium Rhodium Palladium Silver Cadmium Indium Tin Antimony Tellurium Iodine Xenon
Caesium Barium Lanthanum Cerium Praseodymium Neodymium Promethium Samarium Europium Gadolinium Terbium Dysprosium Holmium Erbium Thulium Ytterbium Lutetium Hafnium Tantalum Tungsten Rhenium Osmium Iridium Platinum Gold Mercury (element) Thallium Lead Bismuth Polonium Astatine Radon
Francium Radium Actinium Thorium Protactinium Uranium Neptunium Plutonium Americium Curium Berkelium Californium Einsteinium Fermium Mendelevium Nobelium Lawrencium Rutherfordium Dubnium Seaborgium Bohrium Hassium Meitnerium Darmstadtium Roentgenium Copernicium Nihonium Flerovium Moscovium Livermorium Tennessine Oganesson

After the nonmetallic elements are classified as either metalloids, halogens or noble gases, the remaining seven nonmetals are hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur and selenium. They are generally regarded as being too diverse to merit a collective examination,[45] and have also been referred to as other nonmetals.[46] Consequently, their chemistry is taught disparately, according to their four respective groups.[47]

In 2021 it was reported that the unclassified nonmetals could be collectively distinguished by (i) their physical and chemical character being "moderately non-metallic" on a net basis; (ii) uniquely having either a metallic, colored, or colorless appearance; (iii) an overall tendency to form covalent compounds featuring localized and catenated bonds as chains, rings, and layers; (iv) a capacity to form interstitial and refractory compounds, in light of their relatively small atomic radii and sufficiently low ionization energy values; and (v) prominent geological, biochemical (beneficial and toxic), organocatalytic, and energetic aspects.[48]

Nonmetal halogens

F, Cl, Br, I
Hydrogen Helium
Lithium Beryllium Boron Carbon Nitrogen Oxygen Fluorine Neon
Sodium Magnesium Aluminium Silicon Phosphorus Sulfur Chlorine Argon
Potassium Calcium Scandium Titanium Vanadium Chromium Manganese Iron Cobalt Nickel Copper Zinc Gallium Germanium Arsenic Selenium Bromine Krypton
Rubidium Strontium Yttrium Zirconium Niobium Molybdenum Technetium Ruthenium Rhodium Palladium Silver Cadmium Indium Tin Antimony Tellurium Iodine Xenon
Caesium Barium Lanthanum Cerium Praseodymium Neodymium Promethium Samarium Europium Gadolinium Terbium Dysprosium Holmium Erbium Thulium Ytterbium Lutetium Hafnium Tantalum Tungsten Rhenium Osmium Iridium Platinum Gold Mercury (element) Thallium Lead Bismuth Polonium Astatine Radon
Francium Radium Actinium Thorium Protactinium Uranium Neptunium Plutonium Americium Curium Berkelium Californium Einsteinium Fermium Mendelevium Nobelium Lawrencium Rutherfordium Dubnium Seaborgium Bohrium Hassium Meitnerium Darmstadtium Roentgenium Copernicium Nihonium Flerovium Moscovium Livermorium Tennessine Oganesson

Physically, fluorine and chlorine are pale yellow and yellowish green gases; bromine is a reddish-brown liquid; and iodine is a silvery metallic solid.[n 8] Electrically, the first three are insulators while iodine is a semiconductor (along its planes).[50]

Chemically, they have high ionization energies, electron affinities, and electronegativity values, and are mostly relatively strong oxidizing agents.[51] Manifestations of this status include their intrinsically corrosive nature.[52] All four exhibit a tendency to form predominately ionic compounds with metals[53] whereas the remaining nonmetals, bar oxygen, tend to form predominately covalent compounds with metals.[n 9]

Astatine and tennessine are in the same group as the nonmetal halogens (group 17), but are expected to have metallic properties.[56][57]

Noble gas

He, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe, Rn
Hydrogen Helium
Lithium Beryllium Boron Carbon Nitrogen Oxygen Fluorine Neon
Sodium Magnesium Aluminium Silicon Phosphorus Sulfur Chlorine Argon
Potassium Calcium Scandium Titanium Vanadium Chromium Manganese Iron Cobalt Nickel Copper Zinc Gallium Germanium Arsenic Selenium Bromine Krypton
Rubidium Strontium Yttrium Zirconium Niobium Molybdenum Technetium Ruthenium Rhodium Palladium Silver Cadmium Indium Tin Antimony Tellurium Iodine Xenon
Caesium Barium Lanthanum Cerium Praseodymium Neodymium Promethium Samarium Europium Gadolinium Terbium Dysprosium Holmium Erbium Thulium Ytterbium Lutetium Hafnium Tantalum Tungsten Rhenium Osmium Iridium Platinum Gold Mercury (element) Thallium Lead Bismuth Polonium Astatine Radon
Francium Radium Actinium Thorium Protactinium Uranium Neptunium Plutonium Americium Curium Berkelium Californium Einsteinium Fermium Mendelevium Nobelium Lawrencium Rutherfordium Dubnium Seaborgium Bohrium Hassium Meitnerium Darmstadtium Roentgenium Copernicium Nihonium Flerovium Moscovium Livermorium Tennessine Oganesson

Six nonmetals are classified as noble gases: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and the radioactive radon. In conventional periodic tables they occupy the rightmost column. They are called noble gases in light of their characteristically very low chemical reactivity.

They have very similar properties, all being colorless, odorless, and nonflammable. With their closed valence shells the noble gases have feeble interatomic forces of attraction resulting in very low melting and boiling points.[58] That is why they are all gases under standard conditions, even those with atomic masses larger than many normally solid elements.[59]

Chemically, the noble gases have relatively high ionization energies, no or negative electron affinities, and relatively high electronegativities. Compounds of the noble gases number in the hundreds although the list continues to grow,[60] with most of these occurring via oxygen or fluorine combining with either krypton, xenon or radon.[61]

The status of the period 7 congener of the noble gases, oganesson (Og), is not known. It was originally predicted to be a noble gas[62] but may instead be a fairly reactive metallic-looking semiconducting solid with an anomalously low first ionization potential, and a positive electron affinity, due to relativistic effects.[63] On the other hand, if relativistic effects peak in period 7 at element 112, copernicium, oganesson may turn out to be a noble gas after all, albeit more reactive than either xenon or radon.[64]

Comparison

Properties of metals and those of the (sub)classes of metalloid, unclassified nonmetal, nonmetal halogen, and noble gas are summarized in the following two tables: physical properties in loose order of ease of determination; chemical properties from general to specific; and then to descriptive. The dashed line around the metalloids denotes that, depending on the author, the elements involved may or may not be recognized as a distinct class or subclass of elements. Metals are included as a reference point.

Physical

Some cross-subclass physical properties
Physical property Metals Metalloids Unclassified nonmetals Nonmetal halogens Noble gases
Alkali, Alkaline earth, Lanthanide, Actinide, Transition and Post-transition metals Boron, Silicon, Germanium, Arsenic, Antimony (Sb), Tellurium Hydrogen, Carbon, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Oxygen, Sulfur, Selenium Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine, Iodine Helium, Neon, Argon, Krypton, Xenon, Radon
Form solid (Hg is liquid) solid solid: C, P, S, Se
gaseous: H, N, O
solid: I
liquid: Br
gaseous: F, Cl
gaseous
Appearance lustrous semi-lustrous[65] semi-lustrous: C, P, Se[66]
colorless: H, N, O
colored: S
colored: F, Cl, Br
semi-lustrous: I[67]
colorless
Elasticity mostly malleable and ductile (Hg is liquid) brittle[68] C, black P, S and Se are brittle[69]
the same four have less stable non-brittle forms[n 10]
iodine is brittle[75] not applicable
Structure mainly close-packed centrosymmetrical[76] polyatomic[77] polyatomic: C, P, S, Se[78]
diatomic: H, N, O
diatomic: H, N, O, F, Cl, Br, I monatomic
Bulk coordination number[79] mostly 8−12, or more 6, 4, 3, or 2 3, 2, or 1 1 0
Allotropes[80] common with temperature or pressure changes all form[81] known for C, P, O, S, Se iodine is known in amorphous form[82]

none form
Electrical conductivity high[n 11] moderate: B, Si, Ge, Te
high: As, Sb[n 12]
low: H, N, O, S
moderate: P, Se
high: C[n 13]
low: F, Cl, Br
moderate: I [n 14]
low[n 15]
Volatility[n 16] low
Hg is lowest in class
low
As is lowest in class
low: C, P, S, Se
high: H, N, O
high higher
Electronic structure[89] metallic (Bi is a semimetal) semimetal or semiconductor semimetal, semiconductor, or insulator semiconductor (I) or insulator insulator
Outer electrons 1–8 valence 3–6 4–6 (H has 1) 7 8 (He has 2)
Crystal structure[90]

mainly cubic or hexagonal rhombohedral: B, As, Sb
cubic: Si, Ge
hexagonal: Te
cubic: P, O
hexagonal: H, C, N, Se
orthorhombic: S
cubic: F
orthorhombic: Cl, Br, I
cubic: Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe, Rn
hexagonal: He

Chemical

Some cross-subclass chemical properties
Chemical property Metals Metalloids Unclassified nonmetals Nonmetal halogens Noble gases
Alkali, Alkaline earth, Lanthanide, Actinide, Transition and Post-transition metals Boron, Silicon, Germanium, Arsenic, Antimony (Sb), Tellurium Hydrogen, Carbon, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Oxygen, Sulfur, Selenium Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine, Iodine Helium, Neon, Argon, Krypton, Xenon, Radon
General chemical behavior strong to weakly metallic
noble metals are disinclined to react
weakly nonmetallic[n 17] moderately nonmetallic[n 18] strongly nonmetallic[93] inert to nonmetallic
Rn shows some cationic behavior[94]
Ionization energy‡ relatively low
higher for noble metals
ionization energy for Hg, Rg, Ds, Cn exceeds that for some nonmetals
electronegativity values of noble metals exceed that of P
moderate moderate to high high high to very high
Electron affinity‡ moderate moderate: H, C, O, P (N is c. zero)
higher: S, Se
high zero or less
Electronegativity moderate:
Si < Ge ≈ B ≈ Sb < Te <As
moderate (P) to high:
P < Se ≈ C < S < N < O
high:
I < Br < Cl < F
moderate (Rn) to very high
Standard reduction
potential
moderate moderate to high high high for Xe
Non-zero oxidation states[95] largely positive
negative anionic states known for most alkali and alkaline earth metals; Pt, Au[96]
negative and positive known for all negative states known for all, but for H this is an unstable state
positive known for all but only exceptionally for F[97] and O
from −5 for B to +7 for Cl, Br, I, and At
only positive oxidation states known, and only for heavier noble gases
from +2 for Kr, Xe, and Rn to +8 for Xe
Catenation tendency[98] known for group 8‒11 transition metals;[99] and Hg, Ga, In,[100] Sn and Bi[101] significant: B, Si; Te
less so: Ge, As, Sb
predominant: C
significant: P, S, Se
less so: H, N, O
known in cationic (Cl, Br, I) and anionic forms[102] not known
Compounds with metals alloys or intermetallic compounds tend to form alloys or intermetallic compounds[103] mainly covalent: H†, C, N, P, S, Se
mainly ionic: O[104]
mainly ionic: F, Cl, Br, I[105] simple compounds in ambient conditions not known[n 19]
Oxides ionic, polymeric, layer, chain, and molecular structures[107]
V; Mo, W; Al, In, Tl; Sn, Pb; Bi are glass formers[108]
basic; some amphoteric or acidic
polymeric in structure[109]
B, Si, Ge, As, Sb, Te are glass formers[110]
amphoteric or weakly acidic[111][112][n 20]
mostly molecular[114]
C, P, S, Se are known in at least one polymeric form
P, S, Se are glass formers;[115] CO2 forms a glass at 40 GPa[116]
acidic, or neutral (H2O, CO, NO, N2O)
molecular[117]
iodine is known in at least one polymeric form, I2O5[118]
no glass formers known
acidic
molecular
XeO2 is polymeric[119]
no glass formers known
stable xenon oxides (XeO3, XeO4) are acidic
Sulfates nearly all form[n 21] may form[n 22] most form[n 23] iodine forms an oxosulfate (IO)2SO4[135] not known
† Hydrogen can also form alloy-like hydrides[136]
‡ The labels moderate, high, higher, and very high are based on the value spans listed in the table "Property spans and average values for the subclasses of nonmetallic elements"

Allotropes

Some allotropes of carbon: a) Diamond; b) Graphite; c) Lonsdaleite; d) C60 (Buckminsterfullerene); e) C540 (see Fullerene); f) C70 (see Fullerene); g) Amorphous carbon; h) single-walled carbon nanotube

Many nonmetals have less stable allotropes, with either nonmetallic or metallic properties. Graphite, the standard state of carbon, has a lustrous appearance and is a fairly good electrical conductor. The diamond allotrope of carbon is clearly nonmetallic, being translucent and having a relatively poor electrical conductivity. Carbon is further known in several other allotropic forms, including semiconducting buckminsterfullerene (C60). Nitrogen can form gaseous tetranitrogen (N4), an unstable polyatomic molecule with a lifetime of about one microsecond.[137] Oxygen is a diatomic molecule in its standard state; it also exists as ozone (O3), an unstable nonmetallic allotrope with a half-life of around half an hour.[138] Phosphorus, uniquely, exists in several allotropic forms that are more stable than that of its standard state as white phosphorus (P4). The red and black allotropes are probably the best known; both are semiconductors. Phosphorus is also known as diphosphorus (P2), an unstable diatomic allotrope.[139] Sulfur has more allotropes than any other element;[140] all of these, except plastic sulfur (a metastable ductile mixture of allotropes)[141] have predominately nonmetallic properties. Selenium has several nonmetallic allotropes, all of which are much less electrically conducting than its standard state of grey "metallic" selenium.[142] Iodine is known in a semiconducting amorphous form.[143] Under sufficiently high pressures, just over half of the nonmetals, starting with phosphorus at 1.7 GPa,[144] have been observed to form metallic allotropes.

Most metalloids, like the less electronegative nonmetals, form allotropes. Boron is known in several crystalline and amorphous forms. The discovery of a quasi-spherical allotropic molecule borospherene (B40) was announced in July 2014. Silicon was most recently known only in its crystalline and amorphous forms. The synthesis of an orthorhombic allotrope Si24, was subsequently reported in 2014.[145] At a pressure of c. 10–11 GPa, germanium transforms to a metallic phase with the same tetragonal structure as tin; when decompressed—and depending on the speed of pressure release—metallic germanium forms a series of allotropes that are metastable in ambient conditions.[146] Arsenic and antimony form several well-known allotropes (yellow, grey, and black). Tellurium is known in its crystalline and amorphous forms.[147] All these elements are known in the form of single-layer allotropes.

Abundance, occurrence and extraction

Large (up to 1.8 cm) and unusual yellow boron-rich londonite (Cs,K,Rb)Al4Be4(B,Be)12O28 crystals associated with rubellite tourmaline

Abundance

Hydrogen and helium are estimated to make up approximately 99 per cent of all ordinary matter in the universe. Less than five percent of the universe is believed to be made of ordinary matter, represented by stars, planets and living beings. The balance is made of dark energy and dark matter, both of which are currently poorly understood.[148]

Hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen constitute the great bulk of the Earth's atmosphere, oceans, crust, and biosphere; the remaining nonmetals have abundances of 0.5 per cent or less. In comparison, 35 per cent of the crust is made up of the metals sodium, magnesium, aluminium, potassium and iron; together with a metalloid, silicon. All other metals and metalloids have abundances within the crust, oceans or biosphere of 0.2 per cent or less.[149]

Occurrence

Most nonmetals occur naturally namely H, C, N, O, S, Se among the unclassified nonmetals; antimony and tellurium (occasionally) among the metalloids; and all six of the noble gases. Among the unclassified nonmetals P is too reactive to do so, as is the case (ordinarily) for the nonmetal halogens F, Cl, Br, and I. A 2012 study reported the presence of 0.04% F
2
by weight in antozonite, attributing these inclusions to radiation from the presence of tiny amounts of uranium.[150]

Extraction

Historical marker, denoting a massive helium find near Dexter, Kansas

Nonmetals, and metalloids, in their elemental forms are extracted from:[151] brine: Cl, Br, I; liquid air: N, O, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe; minerals: B (borate minerals); C (coal; diamond; graphite); F (fluorite); Si (silica); P (phosphates); Sb (stibnite, tetrahedrite); I (in sodium iodate NaIO3 and sodium iodide NaI); natural gas: H, He, S; and from ores, as processing byproducts: Ge (zinc ores); As (copper and lead ores); Se, Te (copper ores); and Rn (uranium-bearing ores). Astatine is produced in minute quantities by irradiating bismuth.

Cost

The cost of most non-radioactive nonmetals is unremarkable. As at July 2021, arsenic, germanium, bromine and boron can cost from three to ten times the cost of silver (about $1 US per gram). Purchasing costs can fall dramatically if bulk quantities are involved.[152] Black phosphorus is produced only in gram quantities by boutique suppliers—a single crystal of produced via chemical vapor transport can cost up to $1,000 US per gram (c. seventeen times the cost of gold); in contrast, red phosphorus costs about 50 cents a gram or $227 a pound.[153] Up to 2013, radon was available from the National Institute of Standards and Technology for $1,636 per 20 ml, equivalent to ca. $860,000 per gram.[154]

Applications in common

Shared uses of nonmetallic elements
FieldElements
cryogenics and refrigerantsH, He, N, O, F and Ne
fertilizersH, N, P, S, Cl (as a micronutrient) and Se
household accoutrements[n 24]H (primary constituent of water); He (party balloons); C (in pencils, as graphite); N (beer widgets); O (as peroxide, in detergents); F (as fluoride, in toothpaste); Ne (lighting); P (matches); S (garden treatments); Cl (bleach constituent); Ar (insulated windows); Se (glass; solar cells); Br (as bromide, for purification of spa water); Kr (energy saving fluorescent lamps); I (in antiseptic solutions); Xe (in plasma TV display cells, a technology subsequently made redundant by low cost OLED displays).
industrial acidsC, N, F, P, S and Cl
inert air replacementsN, Ne, S (in sulfur hexafluoride SF6), Ar, Kr and Xe
lasers and lightingHe, C (in carbon dioxide lasers, CO2); N, O (in a chemical oxygen iodine laser); F (in a hydrogen fluoride laser, HF); Ne, S (in a sulfur lamp); Ar, Kr and Xe
medicine and pharmaceuticalsHe, O, F, Cl, Br, I, Xe and Rn
plug-in hybrid vehiclesH, He, B, C, N, O, F, Si, P, S, Cl, Ar, Br, Sb, Te, I

Nonmetals have no universal or near-universal applications. This is not the case with metals, most of which have structural uses; nor the metalloids, the typical uses of which extend to (for example) oxide glasses, alloying components, and semiconductors. Shared applications of different subsets of the nonmetals instead encompass their presence in, or specific uses in the fields of cryogenics and refrigerants; fertilizers; household accoutrements; industrial acids; lasers and lighting; medicine and pharmaceuticals; and plug-in hybrid vehicles.[156]

The number of compounds formed by nonmetals is vast.[157] The first nine places in a "top 20" table of elements most frequently encountered in 8,427,300 compounds, as listed in the Chemical Abstracts Service register for July 1987, were occupied by nonmetals. Hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen were found in the majority (greater than 64 per cent) of compounds. Silicon, a metalloid, was in 10th place. The highest rated metal, with an occurrence frequency of 2.3 per cent, was iron, in 11th place.[158]

Discovery

The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus (1771) by Joseph Wright. The alchemist is Hennig Brand; the glow emanates from the combustion of phosphorus inside the flask.

As a time stamp, most nonmetallic elements were not discovered until after the freezing of mercury in 1759 by the German-Russian physicist Braun and the Russian polymath Lomonosov. Before then, carbon, sulfur and antimony were known in antiquity; arsenic was discovered during the Middle Ages (by Albertus Magnus) and phosphorus during the Renaissance (by Hennig Brand). Most of the rest were isolated between 1766 and 1895. Helium (1868), was the first element not discovered on Earth.[n 25] Radon was discovered at the turn of the 20th century.[n 26]

Notes

  1. Ontologically speaking, anything not a metal is a nonmetal.[7]
  2. A natural kind can be said to be a grouping that reflects divisions in the world, as understood at the time, rather than (so much) the interests and actions of humans. "The periodic table is considered by many authors to be a perfect illustration of how things in the world are divided into natural kinds." Since kinds are revealed by science, a science can revise which kinds it holds to exist: phlogiston was regarded as a kind until after Lavoisier's chemical revolution.[14]
  3. Subſtances ſimples non-métalliques and métalliques, as Lavoisier put it.[16]
  4. Atomic radius is here defined as the average distance from the nucleus where the electron density falls to 0.001 electrons per bohr−3.[17]
  5. Electronegativity values for the noble gases are from Allen LC & Huheey JE 1980, "The definition of electronegativity and the chemistry of the noble gases", Journal of Inorganic and Nuclear Chemistry, vol. 42, no. 10, pp. 1523–1524.
  6. No agents producing complexes or insoluble compounds are present other than HOH and OH.
  7. When astatine, the heavier congener of iodine, was synthesized in 1940 it was thought to be a metal. It subsequently came to be regarded as a nonmetal or a metalloid; it is now predicted to be a monatomic metal.[35]
  8. Solid iodine has a silvery metallic appearance under white light, at room temperature.[49]
  9. Metal oxides are usually ionic.[54] On the other hand, high valence oxides of metals are usually either polymeric or covalent.[55] A polymeric oxide has a linked structure composed of multiple repeating units.
  10. Carbon as exfoliated (expanded) graphite,[70] and as meter-long carbon nanotube wire;[71] phosphorus as white phosphorus (soft as wax, pliable and can be cut with a knife, at room temperature);[72] sulfur as plastic sulfur;[73] and selenium as selenium wires[74]
  11. Metals have electrical conductivity values of from 6.9 × 103 S•cm−1 for manganese to 6.3 × 105 for silver.[83]
  12. Metalloids have electrical conductivity values of from 1.5 × 10−6 S•cm−1 for boron to 3.9 × 104 for arsenic.[84]
  13. The unclassified nonmetals have electrical conductivity values of from c. ~10−18 S•cm−1 for the elemental gases to 3 × 104 in graphite.[85]
  14. The nonmetal halogens have electrical conductivity values of from c. ~10−18 S•cm−1 for F and Cl to 1.7 × 10−8 S•cm−1 for iodine.[86]
  15. The elemental gases have electrical conductivity values of c. ~10−18 S•cm−1[87]
  16. Based on vapor pressures of the elements[88]
  17. They always give compounds less acidic in character than the corresponding compounds of the typical nonmetals[91]
  18. "The elements change from...metalloids, to moderately active nonmetals, to very active nonmetals, and to a noble gas."[92]
  19. Disodium helide (Na2He) is a compound of helium and sodium that is stable at high pressures above 113 GPa. Argon forms an alloy with nickel, at 140 GPa and close to 1,500 K however at this pressure argon is no longer a noble gas.[106]
  20. Arsenic trioxide reacts with sulfur trioxide, forming arsenic "sulfate" As2(SO4)3;[113] see also the Sulfates row.
  21. Sulfates of osmium have not been characterized with any great degree of certainty.[120]
  22. Boron is reported to be capable of forming an oxysulfate (BO)2SO4,[121] a bisulfate B(HSO4)3[122] and a sulfate B2(SO4)3.[123] The existence of a sulfate has been disputed.[124] In light of the existence of silicon phosphate, a silicon sulfate might also exist.[125] Germanium forms an unstable sulfate Ge(SO4)2 (d 200 °C).[126] Arsenic forms oxide sulfates As2O(SO4)2 (= As2O3.2SO3)[127] and As2(SO4)3 (= As2O3.3SO3).[128] Antimony forms a sulfate Sb2(SO4)3 and an oxysulfate (SbO)2SO4.[129] Tellurium forms an oxide sulfate Te2O3(SO)4.[130]
  23. Hydrogen forms hydrogen sulfate H2SO4. Carbon forms (a blue) graphite hydrogen sulfate C+
    24
    HSO
    4
      2.4H2SO4.[131]
    Nitrogen forms nitrosyl hydrogen sulfate (NO)HSO4 and nitronium (or nitryl) hydrogen sulfate (NO2)HSO4.[132] Phosphorus is found as the phosphosulfate PO2SO4 group in biochemistry.[133] There are indications of a basic sulfate of selenium SeO2.SO3 or SeO(SO4).[134]
  24. Rn sometimes occurs as potentially hazardous indoor pollutant[155]
  25. Helium acquired the "-ium" suffix as it was thought at the time that there was no room left in the periodic table for a new nonmetal.[159]
  26. Sources for this section are Emsley,[160] Marshall[161] and Weeks and Leicester.[162]

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  • Media related to Nonmetals at Wikimedia Commons
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