Symbols for Elements
Home Up Symbols for Elements Chemical Names for Compounds

 

Symbols for Elements

Some symbols should make sense to you immediately--such as C for carbon, O for oxygen and S for sulfur. This is because the English name is very similar to the Latin name for these elements. Some of the others should be quite baffling--such as Na for sodium, K for potassium, Fe for iron, Au for gold, and Ag for silver. This is because the English and Latin names for these elements are quite different.
C Na Au
O K Ag
S Fe

Some of the elements have a single letter for a symbol. These are generally the very common ones such as oxygen, or carbon, or they might be the only elements that start with that particular letter.
O
C

Most of the elements have double letter symbols, and you have to make sure that you use an upper case for the first letter and a lower case for the second letter. That second letter is usually the first non-common letter between elements that have names starting with the same letter. For example, chromium and chlorine both start with "C" and so does the symbol. They both have "h" for the second letter but the third letter is different--it's "l" for chlorine, "r" for chromium--and thus the symbols for those two elements are Cl for chlorine and Cr for chromium.
Cl
Cr

Over the years chemists not only named and symbolized the elements, they also discovered new ones and made a great many observations and measurements of the elements. They observed similarities and patterns among the pure elements which cried out for someone to arrange them in some sort of organizational scheme. This was done and the result, after a number of modifications, is the modern periodic table of the elements. (Note: a few of the symbols may change as scientists reach agreement on the most recent elements.) We will have much more to say about it and its strange structure later in the course. You will find that it has a lot to do with the ways that elements combine with one another to form compounds.

H He
Li Be B C N O F Ne
Na Mg Al Si P S Cl Ar
K Ca Sc Ti V Cr Mn Fe Co Ni Cu Zn Ga Ge As Se Br Kr
Rb Sr Y Zr Nb Mo Tc Ru Rh Pd Ag Cd In Sn Sb Te I Xe
Cs Ba La Hf Ta W Re Os Ir Pt Au Hg Tl Pb Bi Po At Rn
Fr Ra Ac Rf Db Sg Bh Hs Mt
Ce Pr Nd Pm Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu
Th Pa U Np Pu Am Cm Bk Cf Es Fm Md No Lr

You will need to become very familiar with the names and symbols for quite a few of the elements with which we work. You won't be responsible for all hundred-plus of them but rather just for  three dozen that are listed in the objectives for this lesson. As the course progresses, remember that we will use symbols to represent individual atoms of the elements and as abbreviations for the names of the elements.

You will need to memorize the symbols and the names for these three dozen elements. There are a variety of ways of going about memorizing things. Use whichever methods work best for you.

Ag Al Ar Au
silver aluminum argon gold
B Ba Be Br
boron barium beryllium bromine
C Ca Cl Co
carbon calcium chlorine cobalt
Cr Cu F Fe
chromium copper fluorine iron
He Hg I
hydrogen helium mercury iodine
Li Mg Mn
potassium lithium magnesium manganese
N Na Ne Ni
nitrogen sodium neon nickel
P Pb S
oxygen phosphorus lead sulfur
Si Sn Ti Zn
silicon tin titanium zinc

 

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E-mail instructor: Sue Eggling

Clackamas Community College
1998, 2002 Clackamas Community College, Hal Bender