Elements and chemical symbols

Atoms are the smallest particles of matter. Their structure is discussed elsewhere in this site. Click to read more about the structure of the atom. Their are 112 different types of atoms. Substances that are made of only one type of atom are known as elements. Chemistry has its own language and all elements and compounds are represented by symbols. It is important to remember some of these symbols. Below is a table of the first twenty elements and their symbols.

Atomic number
Metal or Nonmetal
Natural state
H 1 Hydrogen Nonmetal gas
He 2 Helium Nonmetal gas
Li 3 Lithium Metal solid
Be 4 Berylium Metal solid
B 5 Boron Metal solid
C 6 Carbon Nonmetal solid
N 7 Nitrogen Nonmetal gas
O 8 Oxygen Nonmetal gas
F 9 Fluorine Nonmetal gas
Ne 10 Neon Nonmetal gas
Na 11 Sodium Metal solid
Mg 12 Magnesium Metal solid
Al 13 Aluminium Metal solid
Si 14 Silicon Nonmetal solid
P 15 Phosphorus Nonmetal solid
S 16 Sulfur Nonmetal solid
Cl 17 Chlorine Nonmetal gas
Ar 18 Argon Nonmetal gas
K 19 Potassium Metal solid
Ca 20 Calcium Metal solid

Some common metals

Symbol Element Metal State

Unique property

(Unique characteristics of the substance)

Hg Mecury metal liquid
Au Gold metal solid
Ag Silver metal solid
Pb Lead metal solid
Fe Iron metal solid

Describe one unique property of each metal in the table above. A property is a characteristic of the substance. For example carbon dioxide gas is colourless and denser than air.

Notice that, sometimes, the symbol is the first letter of the element's name. For example Carbon has the symbol "C". When two elements start with the same letter, such as carbon and calcium, the second letter in the name is used. Calcium is given the symbol Ca. Note how the first letter is always a capital while the second is in lower case.

Sometimes the letters from the element's Latin or Greek name are used. For example Iron has the symbol Fe taken from its Latin name ferrum. Mercury has the symbol Hg, taken from its Latin name hydragyrum. Sodium is given the symbol Na, taken from its latin name natrium.

Compounds are written with the symbols of the elements that form them. For example, carbon dioxide has the formula CO2. This indicates that one molecule of carbon dioxide has one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms.