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What is a nonmetal?

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Quick Answer

Nonmetals are naturally occurring elements that do not possess the typical physical and chemical characteristics of metals, such as flexibility, the ability to conduct electricity and hardness. There are many more metals on the surface of the Earth than nonmetals, although the nonmetals that exist are common and serve a variety of uses. These elements include carbon, oxygen, sulfur, selenium, fluorine and chlorine.

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In addition to these nonmetals, others in the family include phosphorous, iodine, bromine and the collection of gases in the noble group. Despite sharing the classification as nonmetals, the elements within this category share few commonalities besides their physical state, which is primarily gas. The exception to this rule is bromine, which exists primarily in liquid form, and several other nonmetals that exist in a solid state at room temperature. In addition to the primarily liquid and gaseous states that characterize nonmetals, most metallic elements take the shape of solid substances at room temperature. In addition to varying from metals in physical appearance, nonmetals have different chemical structures, too. Most nonmetals have smaller and more numerous atoms than most metals. Nonmetals also have a considerably larger number of electrons in their outer shells, which renders them inert. Although there are few nonmetals, they form a large portion of the Earth’s crust and atmosphere.

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