Difference Between Element and Compound (With Table)

Element vs Compound

Amongst several other popular and common questions asked in a chemistry exam, one such question is the difference between an element and a compound.

To understand them, students have to be thorough with the list of different elements and compounds. First of all, the most crucial factor to remember is that both compounds and elements are unadulterated chemical substances that are found in nature.

When you refer to an element, it means a specific species of atom that has a similar number of protons in the atomic nuclei. In other words, it has the same atomic number.

As an example, you may consider oxygen. Since 8 is the atomic volume of oxygen, it refers to all the atoms that have a total of 8 protons.

On the other hand, a chemical compound means a chemical substance that is composed of several molecules that are identical, along with atoms of multiple elements that are held together with the help of chemical bonds.

There are four primary types of compounds that are distinguished by the way the component atoms are bound to each other. These are covalent bonds, ionic bonds, metallic bonds, and coordinate covalent bonds.

Parameter of comparisonElementCompound
DefinitionThese are pure substances that are made up of just a single variety of atom.These are substances that are made up of a minimum of two different varieties of elements held together by a chemical bond.
TypesClassified as metalloids, non-metals, and metals.Classified as per their bonds such as molecular, ionic, and metallic.
RepresentationRepresented by numbers and symbols, such as Calcium is represented by Ca.Represented by their respective chemical formula, such as salt is represented as NaCl.
Property and CompositionSince just a single type of atom makes an element, the properties of the atom are represented by the component atom.When it comes to a compound, similar types of molecules comprise it.
Total NumbersA total of 118 elements are there out of which 94 happens naturally.There is an infinite number of compounds.
Differentiated ByDifferentiated by the atomic number.Differentiated by the fixed ratio of the different elements that are arranged in a definite manner.
Ability to BreakdownIt cannot be broken down by any chemical reaction.It can easily be separated into different simpler substances by a chemical reaction.
ExamplesIron, Gold, and Copper.Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) and Sodium Chloride (NaCl).


What is an Element?

If you want to put the definition of an element in simple words, it is just a substance that consists of similar types of atoms.

An example of an element is iron with a chemical sign of Fe. 118 elements in total have been successfully identified. Out of these 118 elements, 24 happen to be synthetic elements and the rest 94 elements are found in their natural forms on earth.

“Element” is a term that is given to those atoms that have a specific number of protons irrespective of the fact whether they are chemically bonded or ionized.

A good example of this is hydrogen as in water. The term is also used for chemical substances in their pure form made up of a single element such as hydrogen gas.

Out of the 94 elements that occur naturally and have atomic numbers ranging from 1 to 82, each one of them has a minimum of one stable isotope. However, exceptions to this rule include technetium or element 43 and promethium or element 61.

Both of these elements do not have any stable isotopes. You need to know that there has been no radioactive decay recorded or observed for stable isotopes.

Periodic table of elements
Periodic table of elements

What is a Compound?

When you talk about a chemical compound, it refers to any type of substance that consists of a minimum of 2 different varieties of atoms or chemical elements that are fixed in a stoichiometric proportion and can also be termed as a chemical compound.

In case of any non-stoichiometric compound, the proportions can be reproducible without much trouble with regards to their specific preparations.

You need to know that chemical compounds tend to possess a definite and one-of-a-kind chemical structure that is bound in a definite spatial arrangement with the help of chemical bonds.

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There are different types of compounds that are distinguished by the way they are held together.

For example, molecular compounds held by covalent bonds, intermetallic compounds held by metallic bonds, salts held by ionic bonds, and chemical complexes held by coordinate covalent bonds.

Example of compound
Example of compound

Main Differences Between Element and Compound

  1. Pure substances that are made up of a single variety of atoms are known as elements. On the other hand, substances that are formed by a minimum of 2 different varieties of atoms or elements that are bound by a chemical proportion is known as compounds.
  2. A total of 118 different types of elements are there out of which 94 occur in their natural state on earth, whereas, compounds are differentiated by the type of bonds that bind them such as molecular, metallic or ionic.
  3. Elements are always represented by numbers and symbols such as sodium or Na. However, compounds are always represented by their respective chemical formula, such as sodium chloride is NaCl.
  4. Elements are differentiated by their respective atomic numbers, whereas, compounds are differentiated by their respective fixed ratio of various elements that are arranged in a definite manner.
  5. Elements can’t be broken down any further by any chemical reaction. On the other hand, it is very simple to break down or separate compounds into various simpler substances with the help of chemical reactions.
  6. Examples of elements include gold, iron, and copper. Examples of compounds include sodium hydroxide or NaOh and sodium chloride or NaCl.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Element and Compound

  1. What are the examples of a compound?

    The compound is a material or substance that is made up of two or more than two elements.

    Some of the common examples of a compound are carbon dioxide and water. Table salt is also an example of a compound.

  2. How are compounds formed?

    Compounds are the substances that are formed when two or more elements chemically bond or join together.

    When these elements are joined, the atom loses its individual property and gains a different property which is the combination of the new two or more elements.

  3. How do you identify elements and compounds?

    Elements can be identified as Astro substances that cannot be separated from each other.

    While, on the other hand, a compound which is made up of two or more elements can be broken down and the elements can be separated.

  4. Is Diamond a compound?

    No diamond is not a compound. Diamond is a pure element that is made from carbon which has undergone a tremendous amount of pressure over the past many decades and centuries.

  5. How do you identify an unknown element?

    If an element is unknown, then it can be identified with the help of a spectrometer because the element will reflect the light in a different spectrum and accordingly the category of the element can be classified.

  6. How can you identify a compound?

    The compound can be easily identified. If the compound is heated or is mixed with a chemical, then it would break down into its simplest elemental form. 10 by doing so the elements of the compound can be known.

  7. What type of compound is water?

    Water is a compound that is made from two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen.

    The atoms within a compound are held together with the help of various interactions and forces ranging from the covalent bonds to the different forces in ionic bonds.



Element vs Compound



Once you have a clear idea about the definition of an element and a compound, it will be very simple for you to differentiate the two. Elements are made of a single type of atom, whereas, compounds are made up of several different atoms.

You may say that compounds comprise of different elements. It is also very simple to break down compounds. But trying to break down an element is useless. Try breaking down hydrogen and you will understand the meaning of this statement.


Word Cloud for Difference Between Element and Compound

The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Element and Compound. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.

Difference Between element and compound
Word Cloud for Element and Compound



  1. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ed084p880
  2. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2012-23393-001
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0023969082900236