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Difference Between Elements and Atoms

helium_atom_400_pdElements vs Atoms

Chemistry has taught us many things, and the basics of it has taught us about the things that matter consists of, with lots of terms to be understood, for example: Atoms, elements, substances, molecules, compounds, etc.

We all know that a substance is made up of elements and atoms, but do you really know what the difference is between the two?

Elements are the simplest form of substances, and are also considered to be pure substances that cannot be split or broken into simpler substances. However, they are still made up of smaller particles ‘“ which can be molecules, ions, or atoms. Practically, an element is made up of one kind of atom. If you have steel as an element, it means that it should only consist of steel atoms. So, in essence, an atom is the smallest amount of an element.

When atoms combine or bind together via a chemical means, they form molecules. When only like atoms combine, they form elements, so technically, elements can be composed of molecules.

An atom can be considered as the smallest amount of an element. It is the simplest unit of matter, and has a closely packed nucleus in its center. Surrounding the nucleus is a cloud of electrons, which are the negatively-charged particles of an atom. In the nucleus of the atom, a mix of electrically neutral neutrons and positively-charged protons converge. There is, however, an exception. ‘Hydrogen-1’ is a nuclide which is found to be stable, even without a neutron.

Electrons float around the nucleus, but are bound by a force, and when these atoms bind themselves with other atoms, a molecule is formed. Electrically neutral atoms contain equal numbers of electrons and protons. An atom with a charge – which is either negative (it has an extra electron) or positive (it has an extra proton) – is called an ion.

The term ‘element’ only came about at the time the periodic table of elements was introduced. It is actually a table of different kinds of atoms based on their characteristics, such as the number of sub-atomic particles, and atomic weight. However, the term element was used to point out a particular constituent in the periodic table.


1. An element is a primary substance that cannot be further simplified, and consists of smaller particles called atoms.

2. An atom is the smallest amount of an element. It is composed of sub-atomic particles ‘“ neutrons, protons, and electrons.

3. A particular element is composed of only one type of atom.

4. Atoms combine to form molecules; when all bound atoms are alike, they form elements.

5. Fundamentally, the term element came about when the periodic table was introduced to describe kinds of atoms.

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  1. Correction : Steel is not an element… steel is an alloy (which is a mixture of various metallic elements) containing mostly the elements iron and carbon… and sometimes nickel

  2. You are so smart Maggie

  3. Heeeey guys,
    I’m a science teacher soooooooooooo I know that steel is an element…. Look on the periodic table… Byeeeee

  4. This article mostly answered what I wanted to know (difference between an atom and an element). Except then in the summary it said: 3. A particular element is composed of only one type of atom.
    What is the difference between a particle element and an element, if elements are formed by the same kind of an atom?
    I’m just curious…

  5. give me a better responce

  6. Be quiet you guys are so dumb

  7. I’m still confused about this whole concept. Particularly the first point in the summary seems like a contradiction to me. If “An element is a primary substance that cannot be further simplified, and consists of smaller particles called atoms.” Was it just further simplified when it was stated that it consists of smaller particles called atoms? I don’t follow the order and progression this is based on.

    Is the smallest thing known to mankind (that can be split) an atom or its subatomic particles?

    Is the simplest form of an element a single atom, a type of atom, or single atomic configuration?

    I’m missing something and I’d love to have a solid answer.

  8. Not so clear, the concept of disthinguistion the definition and separation in meaning of both atom and element.

  9. Is O2 element or substance?

  10. im in 8th grade and im soooooo confused still on all of it

  11. I am still not satisfied with the difference

  12. you the dumbest person i know and you uglyand yo weaves smell like shit hoe dont ever call know one dumb again

  13. Steel is not an eliment ,steel is a mixture of some metallic elements e.g Iron , nickel etc which is said to be alloy.You have evidenced to some extent.I did not even clear by now.

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