The classification of elements into metals, semiconductors, and nonmetals on the periodic table is primarily determined by their electronic structure and bonding mechanisms, which in turn profoundly impact their electrical properties.

Various types of chemical bonding

Metallic Elements

  • Electronic Structure: Metallic elements typically have relatively few valence electrons. They possess one to three valence electrons, making them readily available for electrical conduction.
  • Bonding Mechanism: Metallic bonding occurs in metals. When closely packed metal atoms discard their valence electrons, these electrons form a sea of free charge carriers. Electrostatic forces hold the metal atoms in a regular lattice, while the free electrons wander freely through the crystal.
  • Electrical Properties: Metals are excellent conductors of heat and electricity due to the presence of numerous free valence electrons. They also exhibit a characteristic metallic luster and high thermal conductivity.

Nonmetallic Elements

  • Electronic Structure: Nonmetals typically have nearly full valence shells, with five to seven valence electrons. Their valence shells are close to being complete, making them less conducive to electrical conduction.
  • Bonding Mechanism: Nonmetals form covalent bonds with other nonmetals. In covalent bonding, two atoms share a pair of valence electrons, creating strong bonds within molecules.
  • Electrical Properties: Nonmetals are generally poor conductors of heat and electricity due to the absence of free valence electrons. They lack the metallic luster and often exist as gases at room temperature.

Semiconductor Elements

  • Electronic Structure: Semiconductors, like silicon and germanium, have an intermediate number of valence electrons (four). Their valence electrons are not as readily available as those of metals but more so than nonmetals.
  • Bonding Mechanism: Semiconductors also form covalent bonds, sharing valence electrons to complete their valence shells. However, their unique electronic properties arise from the arrangement of these covalent bonds.
  • Electrical Properties: Semiconductors exhibit electrical properties that lie between those of metals and nonmetals. They can conduct electricity under specific conditions by promoting valence electrons to the conduction band, creating charge carriers. This behavior is exploited in electronic devices like transistors.

Atomic Structure

  • An atom consists of a positively charged nucleus containing protons, surrounded by a cloud of electrons.
  • The number of electrons equals the number of protons, which is the atomic number of the element.
  • Electrons occupy energy levels or shells, with shells filling from the innermost outward.
  • The outermost shell, called the valence shell, may remain unfilled and determines an element’s chemical and electronic properties.
  • The number of valence electrons an element possesses largely influences its behavior in chemical reactions.

Metallic Bonding

  • Metallic bonding occurs between atoms of metallic elements, such as sodium.
  • In metallic bonding, atoms contribute their valence electrons to create a “sea” of free electrons.
  • The lattice of positively charged atomic cores is held together by electrostatic attraction between free electrons and atomic cores.
  • Metals are good conductors of electricity and heat, malleable, and exhibit a metallic luster due to this electron “sea.”

Covalent Bonding

  • Covalent bonding occurs between atoms of nonmetals, like two chlorine atoms.
  • In covalent bonding, atoms share electron pairs to achieve full valence shells.
  • The shared pair of electrons forms a covalent bond, creating a molecule.
  • Nonmetals bonded covalently are typically poor conductors of electricity and lack metallic luster.
  • Covalent bonds can result in molecules, such as diatomic gases (e.g., O₂) or macromolecular structures (e.g., diamond).


  • Elements like silicon have a unique bonding structure.
  • Silicon atoms share electron pairs with surrounding atoms, forming a covalent network.
  • The lattice structure minimizes mutual electron repulsion, creating a semiconductor material.
  • Semiconductors have properties intermediate between metals and nonmetals.
  • Silicon is normally a poor conductor of electricity but can conduct when doped or exposed to specific conditions.

In summary, the classification of elements into metals, semiconductors, and nonmetals is closely linked to their electronic structure and bonding mechanisms. These differences profoundly influence their electrical properties, determining whether they are excellent conductors (metals), poor conductors (nonmetals), or materials with tunable conductivity (semiconductors).

What are the three main types of chemical bonding?

The three main types of chemical bonding are metallic bonding, covalent bonding, and ionic bonding. Metallic bonding occurs between atoms of metallic elements, where a sea of free valence electrons surrounds a lattice of atomic cores. Covalent bonding occurs between atoms of nonmetals, where atoms share pairs of valence electrons. Ionic bonding involves the transfer of electrons between atoms, leading to the formation of positively and negatively charged ions.

Why is silicon a semiconductor?

Silicon is a semiconductor because its atoms form covalent bonds by sharing valence electrons. In its crystal structure, each silicon atom shares one electron pair with four surrounding atoms, creating a network of covalent bonds. This structure allows silicon to have intermediate electrical properties compared to metals (good conductors) and nonmetals (poor conductors).

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