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Metallic and Nonmetallic Character

Reactivity of metals and nonmetals

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Trends within the Periodic Table

Food Trend Graph

Credit: Recreated by CK-12 Foundation based on data from the CDC
Source: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5304a3.htm
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

What are we eating as a nation?

The graph above indicates some trends in our diet over a thirty-year period. By observing the direction our eating habits are going, we can take steps to help prevent bad eating habits and decrease problems such as high blood pressure and heart attacks.

Development of the periodic table has helped organize chemical information in many ways.  We can now see trends among properties of different atoms and make predictions about the behavior of specific materials.

Metallic and Nonmetallic Character

Metallic character refers to the level of reactivity of a metal. Metals tend to lose electrons in chemical reactions, as indicated by their low ionization energies. Within a compound, metal atoms have relatively low attraction for electrons, as indicated by their low electronegativities. By following the trend summary in the figure below, you can see that the most reactive metals would reside in the lower left portion of the periodic table. The most reactive metal is cesium, which is not found in nature as a free element. It reacts explosively with water and will ignite spontaneously in air. Francium is below cesium in the alkali metal group, but is so rare that most of its properties have never been observed.

Credit: User:Mirek2/Wikimedia Commons
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Periodic_trends.svg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Trends in behaviors of elements. [Figure2]

Reactivity of metals is based on processes such as the formation of halide compounds with halogens and how easily they displace hydrogen from dilute acids.

The metallic character increases as you go down a group. Since the ionization energy decreases going down a group (or increases going up a group), the increased ability for metals lower in a group to lose electrons makes them more reactive.  In addition, the atomic radius increases going down a group, placing the outer electrons further away from the nucleus and making that electron less attracted by the nucleus.

Nonmetals tend to gain electrons in chemical reactions and have a high attraction for electrons within a compound. The most reactive nonmetals reside in the upper right portion of the periodic table. Since the noble gases are a special group because of their lack of reactivity, the element fluorine is the most reactive nonmetal. It is not found in nature as a free element. Fluorine gas reacts explosively with many other elements and compounds and is considered to be one of the most dangerous known substances.

Note that there is no clear division between metallic and non-metallic character.  As we move across the periodic table, there is an increasing tendency to accept electrons (non-metallic) and a decrease in the possibility that an atom would give up one or more electrons.


  • Metallic character refers to the level of reactivity of a metal.
  • Non-metallic character relates to the tendency to accept electrons during chemical reactions.
  • Metallic tendency increases going down a group.
  • Non-metallic tendency increases going from left to right across the periodic table.


Use the link below to answer the following questions:


  1. List three characteristics of metals.
  2. List three characteristics of non-metals.
  3. Give two differences between metals and non-metals that would affect metallic and non-metallic properties.


  1. Define “metallic character.”
  2. Define “non-metallic character.”
  3. Describe the trend in metallic character going down a group.
  4. Describe the trend in non-metallic character going across the periodic table.
  5. Why does the metallic character increase as you go down a group

Is it easy or hard for you to make new friends?

Have you ever noticed how some people attract others to them? Whether it is their personality, attractiveness, or athletic skills – something pulls people toward them, while others have a smaller group of friends and acquaintances.  Atoms do the same thing.  One atom may pull electrons strongly to it, while a second type of atom has much less “pulling power.”


Valence electrons of both atoms are always involved when those two atoms come together to form a chemical bond. Chemical bonds are the basis for how elements combine with one another to form compounds. When these chemical bonds form, atoms of some elements have a greater ability to attract the valence electrons involved in the bond than other elements.

Electronegativity is a measure of the ability of an atom to attract the electrons when the atom is part of a compound. Electronegativity differs from electron affinity because electron affinity is the actual energy released when an atom gains an electron. Electronegativity is not measured in energy units, but is rather a relative scale. All elements are compared to one another, with the most electronegative element, fluorine, being assigned an electronegativity value of 3.98. Fluorine attracts electrons better than any other element.  The table below shows the electronegativity values for the elements.

License: CC BY-NC 3.0


The electronegativity scale was developed by Nobel Prize winning American chemist Linus Pauling. The largest electronegativity (3.98) is assigned to fluorine and all other electronegativities measurements are on a relative scale.

Since metals have few valence electrons, they tend to increase their stability by losing electrons to become cations. Consequently, the electronegativities of metals are generally low. Nonmetals have more valence electrons and increase their stability by gaining electrons to become anions. The electronegativities of nonmetals are generally high.


Electronegativities generally increase from left to right across a period. This is due to an increase in nuclear charge. Alkali metals have the lowest electronegativities, while halogens have the highest. Because most noble gases do not form compounds, they do not have electronegativities. Note that there is little variation among the transition metals. Electronegativities generally decrease from top to bottom within a group due to the larger atomic size.

Of the main group elements, fluorine has the highest electronegativity (EN = 4.0) and cesium the lowest (EN = 0.79). This indicates that fluorine has a high tendency to gain electrons from other elements with lower electronegativities. We can use these values to predict what happens when certain elements combine. The following video shows this.


When the difference between electronegativities is greater than ~1.7, then a complete exchange of electrons occurs. Typically this exchange is between a metal and a nonmetal. For instance, sodium and chlorine will typically combine to form a new compound and each ion becomes isoelectronic with its nearest noble gas. When we compare the EN values, we see that the electronegativity for Na is 0.93 and the value for Cl is 3.2. The absolute difference between ENs is |0.93 - 3.2| = 2.27. This value is greater than 1.7, and therefore indicates a complete electron exchange occurs.


  • Electronegativity is a measure of the ability of an atom to attract the electrons when the atom is part of a compound.
  • Electronegativity values generally increase from left to right across the periodic table.
  • Electronegativities generally decrease from top to bottom of a group.
  • The highest electronegativity value is for fluorine.


Use the link below to answer the following questions:


  1. What are the least electronegative elements?
  2. What is a polar bond?
  3. What happens if atom A in a bond has much more electronegativity that atom B?


  1. Define “electronegativity.”
  2. How does electronegativity differ from electron affinity?
  3. Why are the electronegativity values of metals generally low?
  4. Describe the trend in electronegativities across the periodic table.
  5. Describe the trends in electronegativities in a group of the periodic table.

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Recreated by CK-12 Foundation based on data from the CDC; Source: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5304a3.htm; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: User:Mirek2/Wikimedia Commons; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Periodic_trends.svg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  3. [3]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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