An Introduction to the Properties of Matter

by Christine Chadwick

Every object on Earth is made up of matter. There are two basic properties of matter: physical and chemical. You're likely to learn about these properties in two subjects most senior school and some college students take: physics and chemistry. It's helpful to have a basic handle on the properties of matter before jumping into either course. This way, you'll know just what your teacher, lecturer, Chemistry Tutor or PHYSICS TUTOR mean when they discuss matter in the first few sessions. Below you'll find some helpful introductory ideas to know about both physical and chemical properties of matter.

Physical Properties of Matter

Physical properties are those attributes of an object that can be distinguished without altering its outward appearance. When you look at a banana, you can easily recognise that this fruit has certain physical characteristics. These include volume, colour, shape, mass, and density. Mass is defined as just how much matter an object has. Volume is the amount of space an object takes up, and density is the amount of mass in a particular volume.

Intensive & Extensive Properties

Physical properties can be divided into two categories: intensive and extensive. Intensive properties remain constant no matter how much matter an object has. Intensive properties include colour, density, and conductivity. Extensive properties will change if the amount of matter does. Examples of extensive properties are mass, volume, and length. People often confuse mass and weight. Weight takes into account the pull of gravity on an object, while mass does not.

Chemical Properties of Matter

Chemical properties can only be seen when an object is changed through a chemical reaction or other process. An object must undergo a chemical change for its chemical properties to be recognised. Examples of chemical properties are flammability, toxicity, radioactivity, and oxidation. In chemistry class, lab tests are often completed to help students recognise the chemical properties of an object. For example, the level of toxicity of an object involves its ability to harm or disrupt the makeup of another organism.


It's nearly impossible to talk about matter without mentioning the atom, the basic building block of all things that have mass and take up space on Earth. You can determine an element's atomic makeup by finding out how many protons (particles with a positive charge) are found within it. The Periodic Table, that famous chart of chemical elements hanging in every chemistry classroom, is arranged in part by the elements' chemical properties.

Because every physical thing on Earth is made up of matter, it's useful to know about its different properties. Even if you don't plan to pursue a career as a chemistry teacher or lab scientist, understanding the basic makeup of objects allows us to better comprehend and respond to our world.