How Is the Chemical Symbol of an Element Determined?

The chemical symbol of an element is determined by the language used to abbreviate the element. Most chemical symbols use abbreviations of the English name for the element, such as "O" for oxygen, "H" for hydrogen or "Ar" for argon.

There are 10 elements that contain chemical symbols derived from Latin, Greek or German element names or words. Seven of these chemical symbols are borrowed from Latin: copper (Cu), gold (Au), iron (Fe), lead (Pb), potassium (K), silver (Ag) and tin (Sn).

Elements with chemical symbols abbreviated after Greek spellings include antimony (Sb) and mercury (Hg). The element tungsten (W) uses a chemical symbol derived from the German word "wolfram."