Difference Between Element and Compound

Element and Compound are the two major classifications of molecules i.e., the entity that composes any matter. The significant difference between element and compound is that in an element, the molecules that compose it are made up of the same type of atoms. As against, compounds are formed by the combination of various elements in definite proportions.

Molecules form the base of both elements and compounds. Before proceeding, lets us first understand, what is a molecule?

A molecule is known to be the tiniest entity that composes an element or a compound that exists independently in normal conditions. Molecules display all the properties of the substance which it forms.

Content: Element Vs Compound

  1. Comparison Chart
  2. Definition
  3. Key Differences
  4. Conclusion

Comparison chart

Basis for ComparisonElementCompound
BasicThese are formed by combining the molecules formed by similar type of atoms.These are formed by the combination of various elements composed of different atoms.
PropertiesThe combination of elements that forms a compound exhibit different properties than that of actual compound. Any compound which is formed by combining various elements do not show similar properties like that of the elements.
Chemical breakingNot existExist
RepresentationRepresented symbolicallyRepresented by chemical formula
Type of AtomsSimilarDifferent
Separated by Atomic numberAtomic ratio
Smallest individual entityAtomMolecule
ExampleIron, Copper, Oxygen, etc.Water, Carbon Dioxide, Sodium Chloride, etc.

Definition of Element

Elements are known to be the fundamental components that compose all the matter present in our surroundings. Any simple chemical process cannot divide a chemical substance further. There is a total of 118 chemical elements present till today out of which nearly 20% are not naturally present but are synthetically prepared.

Chemical elements are composed of atoms of similar type thus all the atoms in the configuration have the same number of protons or have the same atomic number. For an element, it should be necessarily considered that it cannot be subdivided into any other substance.

Example: Hydrogen, Ozone, Chlorine, Nitrogen, Sulphur, etc.

Definition of Compound

Compounds are the molecules formed as a complex combination of various elements. When two or more individual elements are combined then the individual elements somewhat lose their respective properties and the compound produced possesses its own distinct characteristic property.

The elements that combinedly form the compound are joined together either by covalent or ionic bonds. To form a compound, different elements in the various compositions are bonded together.

Suppose we consider the compound methane, with the chemical formula CH4. Methane is a compound that is formed as a combination of elements carbon and hydrogen. From the given formula of the compound, the type of constituent element and the composition can be determined. Here for methane, the constituent elements are carbon and hydrogen while the subscript shows the respective number of atoms.

Example: Salt, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, octane, etc.

Key Differences Between Element and Compound

  1. Elements and compounds are mainly differentiated on the basis of the formation of the two. An element is formed when atoms of similar types are combined together. While a compound is formed when elements are combined but the various elements in the composition use distinct atoms.
  2. To represent an element, in general, symbols are used whereas to represent a compound, a chemical formula displaying each individual element with composition is used.
  3. The formation of molecules within the element must use the same type of atom. However, this is not the case with compounds as these are formed when various elements are combined and each element is composed of different atoms.
  4. The smallest individual unit in which an element can be broken is an atom while the smallest individual entity in which a compound can be divided is a molecule.
  5. In order to separate various elements, atomic number is used but the compounds are separated by the atomic ratio.
  6. An element cannot be chemically broken and it is said in regard to the fact that the atoms used to compose an element are of the same type thus their chemical division is not significantly possible.
    Example: O2 = O + O
    On dividing oxygen molecule, two oxygen atoms are obtained, thus, breaking is not significant.
    On the contrary, compounds support chemical breaking due to the reason that these are formed by combining various elements thus chemical division provides a significant idea about associated properties.
    Example: H20 = H + H + O
    Here on dividing water molecule, 3 elements are produced, and out of the three, 2 is of hydrogen and 1 is of oxygen.
  7. Elements are regarded as pure substances due to the presence of similar types of atoms but compounds are regarded as impure substances as different types of atoms.
  8. The various examples of elements are argon, helium, oxygen, iron, copper, etc. While the examples of compounds are water, ammonia, carbon dioxide, glucose, sodium chloride, etc.


Thus, from this discussion, one can conclude that element and compound both are regarded as a molecule but elements are composed of similar types of atoms but compounds are a combination of different elements.

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