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Extensive and Intensive Properties

Types of attributes used to describe matter

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Extensive and Intensive Properties

Picture of a twenty dollar bill

Credit: Courtesy of the US Mint
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US-Series-1995-$20-Obverse.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

How much is twenty dollars really worth?

I agree to mow someone’s lawn for twenty dollars (it’s a fairly big yard). When they pay me, they give me a $20 bill. It doesn’t matter whether the bill is brand new or old, dirty, and wrinkled – all these bills have the same value of $20. If I want more $20 bills, I have to mow more lawns. I can’t say, “This particular bill is actually worth more than $20.” To have more money, I have to put in more work.

Extensive and Intensive Properties

Extensive Properties

Some properties of matter depend on the size of the sample, while some do not. An extensive property is a property that depends on the amount of matter in a sample. The mass of an object is a measure of the amount of matter that an object contains. A small sample of a certain type of matter will have a small mass, while a larger sample will have a greater mass. Another extensive property is volume. The volume of an object is a measure of the space that is occupied by that object.

The figure below illustrates the extensive property of volume. The pitcher and glass both contain milk. The pitcher holds approximately two quarts and the glass will hold about 8 ounces of milk. The same milk is in each container. The only difference is the amount of milk contained in the glass and in the pitcher

Pitcher and glass of milk

Credit: Zenon Niewada (Wikimedia: Pitcherman)
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Milk_Pitcher_With_Lid.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Milk pitcher and glass.[Figure2]

Intensive Properties

The electrical conductivity of a substance is a property that depends only on the type of substance. Silver, gold, and copper are excellent conductors of electricity, while glass and plastic are poor conductors. A larger or smaller piece of glass will not change this property. An intensive property is a property of matter that depends only on the type of matter in a sample and not on the amount. Other intensive properties include color, temperature, density, and solubility.

The copper wire shown in the picture below has a certain electrical conductivity. You could cut off the small end sticking out and it would have the same conductivity as the entire long roll of wire shown here. The conductivity is a property of the copper metal itself, not of the length of the wire.

Roll of copper wire

Credit: User:Inductiveload/Wikimedia Commons
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tinned_Copper_Wire_anaglyph.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Copper wire.[Figure3]


  • An extensive property is a property that depends on the amount of matter in a sample.
  • Mass and volume are examples of extensive properties.
  • An intensive property is a property of matter that depends only on the type of matter in a sample and not on the amount.
  • Color, temperature, and solubility are examples of intensive properties.


  1. Define extensive property.
  2. Give two examples of extensive properties.
  3. Define intensive property.
  4. Give two examples of intensive properties.

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Courtesy of the US Mint; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US-Series-1995-$20-Obverse.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Zenon Niewada (Wikimedia: Pitcherman); Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Milk_Pitcher_With_Lid.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  3. [3]^ Credit: User:Inductiveload/Wikimedia Commons; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tinned_Copper_Wire_anaglyph.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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