Difference Between Elements and Atoms

The subject of Chemistry is quite interesting (only if you have an interest and understand the chapters). Chemistry has given us lots of things, and the basic part of it is, how matter consists of different things. With this, words like elements, substances, atoms, molecules, compounds, automatically relate themselves in each discussion.

We are well-aware that a substance is made of both elements and atoms. As both are not the same, what is the difference between elements and atoms?

The Main Difference Between the Two 

Elements are the simplest form of any given substance. They are the purest form of a substance as they cannot be split or broken into sub-parts of a substance. However, scientifically, an element can be made of smaller particles like ions, molecules or atoms. To be simpler, and in most cases, elements are made from only one type of atom. If an element comes from steel, it means it will contain steel atoms only. Therefore, to be precise, atoms are the smallest part or amounts of elements. This is the primary difference between an atom and element. 

Atoms are the simplest unit of a matter. In their center, atoms have a closely packed nucleus. The nucleus in the center is surrounded by clouds of electrons. These electrons are negatively-charged particles of an atom. Furthermore, in the atom’s nucleus, some neutral neutrons which are electrically charged continue to converge with positively charged protons. However, Hydrogen is an exception as it is a form of nuclide that stays stable even without a single neutron.

When atoms bind or combine together through chemical reactions, they together form molecules. However, if like (same, without chemical reactions) atoms combine, they form elements. Therefore, technically, elements are composed of molecules. 

Now, in terms of elements, they combine to form chemical compounds that can be divided into several classifications. These are oxides, hydrides, molecular compounds, salts and others. When the elements combine together, the electrons in the atom stay bonded and does the same functionality as before the combination occurred. Both metals and non-metals combine with each to form ionic bonds. 

Taking a Closer Look

Let’s find out the difference between atom and element with an example!

Simply put, atoms are the smallest part of any ordinary matter. They are made from protons (that carry positive electrical charge), neutrons (that are neutral or no electrical charge) and electrons (that carry negative electrical charge). A perfectly built atom will have the same number of electrons and protons. 

On the contrary, elements are not that complicated as atoms. It is a simple substance that is made from a single type of atom. For instance, the element of hydrogen contains atoms that are made from a single electron and proton. In a sample of hydrogen, most of the atoms found in the element, have no neutrons. Rarely may you find a single or two neutrons in the atoms. This version of hydrogen opens up a new chapter called isotopes.

The Difference Between an Atom and an Element



The smallest part of an element.

A Basic substance that can be simplified.

Made of electrons, protons and neutrons.

Made from one type of atom.

Contain only one nucleus with numerous electrons, protons and neutrons.

Atoms have the same numbers of protons.

They combine to form molecules.

They combine to form chemical compounds.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. How Many Types of Atoms are There?

There are a total of 92 types of atoms, and they combine with each to form different matters. Every matter in the universe is made of atoms.

2. Define Elements 

Element is a fundamental substance that is made from a single type of atom. The arrangement is based on the number of protons. Different forms of elements are obtainable when atoms with equal protons arrange differently.

3. What are the Categories of Elements? 

There are three categories of elements that are characterized by their properties. These are nonmetals, metals, and semimetals. Most of the elements are metals, and the only handful of them is semimetals and nonmetals. 

4. How Atoms Differ in Various Elements 

There are different types of elements, and their atoms differ in weights and chemical properties. The atoms in each element combine in whole numbers to make compounds.