Difference Between Elements and Atoms (With Table)

Terminologies like Elements and Atoms are very frequently used while studying Chemistry and sometimes Physics too. However, as the subject advances and gets more and more complicated, the meanings of the terms can get easily confused. And it is very crucial to have an extremely clear concept and understanding of the basics of this subject.

Elements vs Atoms

The main difference between Elements and Atoms is that an element is the most simplistic form of a substance which is made up of atoms. An element is classified depending on its atomic number. Subatomic particles combine to form atoms, which later combine to form an element. Later on, elements combine to form molecules.

Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elements cannot be segmented into simpler substances by any chemical method. In the periodic table of elements, the elements are systematized by their atomic number. By simple definition, Elements are all the distinct types of atoms that happen to exist on Earth. The number of protons in the nucleus is the determining characteristic of an element. It is known as the atomic number of the latter.

An atom is the tiniest fraction of conventional matter that creates a chemical element. An atom is composed of subatomic particles. They are protons, electrons, and neutrons. To put it in simple words, atoms are the building blocks for composing the elements. The size of the atoms is notably small, approximately around 100 picometers across.

Comparison Table Between Elements and Atoms

Parameters of Comparison




Bigger than atoms

Very small (cannot be even seen under a microscope)

Number of types

There are in total 118 elements.

There are approximately 92 kinds of atoms available in nature.


A specific element is comprised of only one particular type of atom.

Atoms are composed of subatomic particles. They are protons, electrons, and neutrons.

When they combine

Elements combine to form new chemical reactions.

When atoms combine, they form the molecule.


Heavier than a singular atom.

Extremely Light (Relative weight is 1 AMU)

What are Elements?

In chemistry, an element is a basic concept which one needs to know to understand advanced chemistry. An element, in its atomic nuclei, is composed only of atoms that contain the same number of protons. The latter defines the condition of the formation of an element that is a pure substance.

Chemical elements cannot be divided down into more simplistic elements or substances with the use of any chemical means and method. The defining property is the number of protons in the nucleus. The latter is attributed as the atomic number, and it is represented by the symbol ‘Z.’ The atoms that have the equivalent atomic number are considered to be the atoms of the same element.

Modern chemistry depends a lot on the period table. All the discovered elements are categorized and systematically organized in the periodic table. This concept was devised by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869. 

The characteristics of an element are responsible for its physical state at room or normal temperature. It can be either in a gaseous state or solid or liquid.

There are approximately 118 types of elements in total. 

Few examples of elements are as follows:

  1. Hydrogen 
  2. Carbon 
  3. Neon 
  4. Magnesium 
  5. Aluminium 
  6. Boron
  7.  Silicon 
  8. Oxygen 
  9. Chloride 
  10. Calcium

What are Atoms?

Atoms are the smallest unit of ordinary matter. They are extremely small, with an approximate size of 100 picometers. The atom is so small that it cannot even be seen under a microscope. Also, an atom is extremely light weighted. Relatively the weight of the latter is relatively 1AMU. An atom is comprised of subatomic parts, which are the proton, electrons, and neutrons. 

The nucleus is composed of one or more protons and several neutrons. There is only one exception to this rule, that is Hydrogen, which has no neutrons. 99.94% of an atom’s mass is accounted for by the nucleus. 

The protons possess a positive electric charge, the electrons contain a negative electric charge, whereas the neutrons do not have any electric charge. An atom is electrically neutral when the number of protons and the electrons are equal. If the number of protons is more than that of the electrons, then the atom is positively charged and vice versa, respectively. The before-mentioned atoms are known as ions.

There are 92 various types of atoms in nature. 

 The primary concept and notion that matter is made up of extremely small indivisible particles are very old. The history of atoms goes back to the ancient times of India and Greece. The literal meaning of the word ‘Atom’ is derived from the ancient Greek word ‘a-to-mos’, and it means “uncuttable”.

Main Differences Between Elements and Atoms

  1. The size of one particle of an element is bigger than that of an atom, whereas the size of a singular atom is extremely small. The atom is so small that it is hardly possible to see the latter even under a microscope.
  2. There are approximately 118 elements in total, in discovery until date, whereas around 92 kinds of atoms are available in nature.
  3. A particular element is composed of only one distinct kind of atom, whereas one atom is composed of subatomic particles. The subatomic particles are the protons, neutrons, and the nucleus.
  4. When more than one element combines, they form a new chemical reaction resulting in a new element, whereas when more than one atom combine (keeping various matters constant), they form a molecule.
  5. The weight of the element is heavier when compared to that of the atom, whereas, in the case of atoms, the latter is extremely light. The relative weight of the latter is approximately 1 AMU.


Many people assume that atoms and elements are the same concepts. But if one pays close attention, she/he will be able to understand that they have many dissimilarities. Though there are many affinities among these, the principal difference is that even though an element is the purest form of a substance, an atom is a part of the element.

When the atoms combine, they form a molecule by certain chemical reactions. Then, keeping few factors constant when the molecules bind together, they form elements.


  1. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=EvTI-ouH3SsC&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=elements&ots=pQ5TOAfsJ3&sig=LBL5oWU1-cH9p_y8JPtdmdjok7g
  2. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/ar00109a003