In the world of chemistry, two fundamental components form the basis of all matter that are elements and compounds. They have distinct characteristics and play important roles in understanding the composition and behavior of substances.

Elements are the fundamental building blocks, composed of identical atoms defined by their atomic number. Compounds, in contrast, emerge from the combination of different elements, possessing unique properties and fixed ratios.

Element vs compound

Imagine elements like special ingredients that always keep their own unique flavors, no matter where they come from. For example, hydrogen will always be hydrogen, whether it’s here on Earth or way out in space. But when these ingredients mix together, they can create something totally new and surprising substances.

Take sodium and chlorine, for example. On their own, they have their own properties. Sodium can be really reactive, and chlorine has a strong smell. But when they join up, they become a whole new substance. The combined form of sodium and chloride is called sodium chloride (NaCl). Also known as table salt. NaCl is not acting like sodium or chlorine anymore. It has its own unique taste and properties that are totally different from the elements that make it.

So, in simple words, elements keep their own identities no matter what. But when they team up to make compounds, they can create substances with entirely new qualities that can not be expected by the elements separately.

These are key differences between element and compound below:

Elements Compounds
Elements are pure substances composed of only one type of atom. Compounds are substances formed by the chemical combination of two or more different elements.
Each element is uniquely defined by its atomic number and properties. Compounds possess distinct properties that differ from those of their constituent elements.
Elements exhibit consistent identities across various contexts. Compounds display emergent properties that transcend their individual elemental characteristics.
Hydrogen, for instance, retains its inherent attributes whether found on Earth or in distant celestial bodies. Sodium and chlorine, distinct elements, react to create sodium chloride (table salt) with entirely new properties.
Elements often exist in a pure form in nature. Compounds are rarely found in their pure form in nature and are usually formed through chemical reactions.
They participate in chemical reactions to form compounds or achieve stability. Compounds are formed through chemical bonding where elements share or transfer electrons.
Elements are organized in the periodic table based on their atomic numbers and properties. Their properties depend on the types of elements present and the nature of their chemical bonds.
They are denoted by chemical symbols, such as "H" for hydrogen or "O" for oxygen. They are represented by chemical formulas, like "H2O" for water or "CO2" for carbon dioxide.
Elements encompass a wide range of properties, from gases like oxygen to metals like gold. Compounds exhibit diverse properties, ranging from the gaseous nature of carbon dioxide to the solid structure of table salt.
They can exist in multiple isotopes with varying numbers of neutrons. They are characterized by fixed ratios of constituent elements by mass.
Elements can exist in different phases (solid, liquid, gas) under varying conditions. Compounds can have varying physical states (solid, liquid, gas) depending on temperature and pressure.
These can be categorized into groups and periods on the periodic table. Compounds can be classified into categories like organic or inorganic based on their chemical composition.
They play a role in defining the properties of compounds they form. They exhibit properties distinct from the elements they are composed of.
Elements can be identified through spectroscopy and other analytical techniques. Compounds are identified by analyzing their chemical composition and molecular structure.
These can combine to form alloys, mixtures of different metals. These combine through chemical reactions, resulting in new substances with unique properties.
Elements may exhibit various oxidation states in different compounds. Compounds have specific stoichiometric ratios that determine their chemical composition.
Elements are the fundamental components of matter. Compounds exemplify the complexity of chemical interactions and molecular formations.
They are studied in fields like nuclear physics and elemental analysis. These are explored in areas such as organic chemistry and materials science.
Elements form the basis of the periodic law and the periodic table's organization. Compounds contribute to the diversity of chemical reactions and reactions' mechanisms.
They serve as the foundational units for compounds' composition. They epitomize the intricate combination of elements, leading to diverse chemical behavior.

What are Elements?

An element is a pure substance composed of only one type of atom. These atoms are characterized by a fixed number of protons in their nucleus, defining their chemical identity. The periodic table, a visual representation of elements, classifies them based on their atomic number, which corresponds to the number of protons. Hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and gold are familiar examples of elements.

Properties of Elements

Atomic Identity

Elements are uniquely identified by their atomic number and the number of protons within their nuclei. Hydrogen, for instance, has an atomic number of 1, signifying a single proton.


Elements are the simplest forms of matter, comprising identical atoms.

Chemical Reactivity

Elements can engage in chemical reactions to form compounds, gain or lose electrons, and bond with other elements to achieve stability.

Subatomic Particles

Elements consist of subatomic particles, primarily protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Symbolic Representation

Elements are denoted by chemical symbols, often derived from their names in English or Latin. For instance, “H” represents hydrogen, and “O” represents oxygen.

These are examples of elements below:

  • Hydrogen (H)
  • Helium (He)
  • Carbon (C)
  • Oxygen (O)
  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Sodium (Na)
  • Iron (Fe)
  • Gold (Au)
  • Chlorine (Cl)
  • Neon (Ne)

What are Compounds?

Compounds, on the other hand, are substances formed when two or more elements chemically combine in fixed proportions. The resulting compound has distinct properties that differ from its constituent elements. Water (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and sodium chloride (NaCl) are well-known examples of compounds.

A compound represents a chemical union of distinct elements, brought together through chemical bonding. It is within the realm of compounds that the true magic of chemistry transpires. Whether it’s the life-sustaining embrace of water (H2O), the aromatic resonance of benzene (C6H6), or the complex structure of DNA, compounds manifest an elegant fusion of elements that encapsulates their unique interactions, reactivity, and properties.

Properties of compounds

Chemical Bonding

Compounds arise from the chemical bonding of different elements. These bonds can be covalent (sharing electrons) or ionic (transfer of electrons).

Fixed Ratios

Compounds have a specific ratio of constituent elements by mass. For example, water always consists of two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen atom.

Unique Properties

Compounds exhibit properties that are often quite distinct from those of their constituent elements. For instance, sodium (a highly reactive metal) and chlorine (a toxic gas) combine to form sodium chloride, a stable and edible table salt.


Compounds can be broken down into their constituent elements through chemical reactions. For example, water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen gases through a process called electrolysis.


Compounds are represented using chemical formulas that denote the types and ratios of atoms present. H2O represents water, CO2 stands for carbon dioxide, and NaCl represents sodium chloride.

These are examples of compounds below:

  • Water (H2O)
  • Table Salt (Sodium Chloride, NaCl)
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Sugar (Sucrose, C12H22O11)
  • Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate, NaHCO3)
  • Vinegar (Acetic Acid, CH3COOH)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2)
  • Ammonia (NH3)
  • Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3)

Key Takeaways

element vs compound

Concepts Berg

What is an element?

An element is a pure substance made up of only one type of atom. It’s like a basic building block of matter.

How many elements are there?

There are 118 known elements that scientists have identified so far.

What’s the difference between elements and compounds?

Elements are single types of atoms, while compounds are made by combining different elements.

What’s the smallest unit of an element?

The smallest unit of an element is an atom.

Can elements change into other elements?

Elements can’t change into other elements by themselves. This is a process that happens in nuclear reactions.

What is a compound?

A compound is a substance formed when two or more elements chemically join together.

How are compounds made?

Compounds are made through chemical reactions where atoms from different elements bond together.

Do compounds have their own properties?

Yes, compounds have unique properties that are different from the properties of the individual elements they’re made of.

What’s the difference between a molecule and a compound?

A molecule is a group of atoms bonded together, and a compound is a specific type of molecule made of different elements.

Can compounds be broken down into their elements?

Yes, compounds can be broken down into their elements through chemical reactions.

How is a mixture different from a compound?

In a mixture, substances are physically combined, but they retain their own properties and can be separated without chemical reactions.

Can mixtures be separated easily?

Yes, mixtures can often be separated using methods like filtering, distillation, or evaporation.

Can elements and compounds both take part in chemical reactions?

Yes, both elements and compounds can react with each other to form new substances.

What happens during a chemical reaction?

During a chemical reaction, atoms are rearranged to form new molecules with different properties.

How do elements get their symbols?

Elements’ symbols often come from their names in English or Latin. For example, “H” stands for hydrogen.