metals header image

Higher and foundation tiers

The chemical and physical properties of metals

The periodic table below has been split into 2 parts. The right-hand side of the table is where the non-metals are found in groups 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 0. The left-hand side is where you find the metals in groups 1 and 2 and the centre block of the periodic table called the transition metals is where most of the metals are found. Looking at the periodic table below you can see that around 75 percent of the elements are metals.

periodic table showing the positions of the metals and non-metal elements.

Properties of metals

3d model to show metallic bonding present in metals. The physical properties of an element; that is properties such as melting points, boiling points and densities depend to a large extent on the type of bonding present in the element and on its structure. Metals all have a giant structure of metal ions with all the ions held together by strong metallic bonds. The metallic bonds present in metals are due to the attraction of the delocalised negatively charged electrons and the positively charged metal ions. These metallic bonds are strong. A giant structure with lots of strong metallic bonds will result in metals with high melting and boiling points.

Physical properties of metals

You should be explain and describe the common physical properties of metals and explain how these relate to the structure and bonding found in metals. These properties include:

The image below summarises the main physical properties of metals:

Montage showing the physical properties of metals

Chemical properties of metals

The chemical properties of elements; that is how they react with other substances depends on the number of electrons in their last shell. This is also related to the position of the element in the periodic table. Elements react in such a way as to achieve full last electron shells. That is 2 electrons in the case of the first electron shell and 8 electrons for all other shells. Atoms achieve full shells by losing or gaining or even sharing electrons.

Metals always lose electrons when they react e.g. sodium an alkali metal in group 1 of the periodic table has an electron arrangement of 2,8,1. To achieve a full last shell it can either gain 7 electrons or lose 1 electron. Since gaining 7 electrons is not possible it will simply lose one electron to form a charged atom or ion with a charge of +1. All alkali metals in group 1 will lose 1 electron when they react, so the metal atoms will form metal ions with a charge of +1. As you go down a group in the periodic table such as the alkali metals from Li, Na, K, Rb, Cs the atoms get larger as more electron shells are added, so the negatively charged electrons in the last shell are further away from the attraction of the positively charged nucleus and the electron in the last shell is also shielded or screened from the protons in the positively charged nucleus by the addition of extra shells, this means that less energy is required to remove the outer electron as more shells are added. So the electron in the last shell will require much less energy to remove it. This means that the metals become more reactive as you descend the group.

A similar argument can be made for the metals in group 2 and 3 of the periodic table, but remember metals in group 2 will lose 2 electrons and form ions with a 2+ charge and group 3 metals will lose 3 electrons to form ions with a 3+ charge.

No rules are perfect!

There are exceptions to this broad rule. The alkali metals at the top of group 1 all float on water and so these metals have low densities. The melting and boiling points of group 1 metals are generally much lower that you might expect from a typical metal. The metals in group 1 are not typically what most people think of as metals. The transition metals (shown in red in the periodic table above) on the other hand are hard, strong, shiny metals that are excellent conductors of electricity and heat. These metals are what most think of as a typical metal.

Key Points

The physical properties of metals

The physical properties of metals.

Practice questions

Check your understanding - Questions on metals

Check your understanding - Additional questions on metals

Quick Quiz Check your understanding - Metals quick quiz