Periodic trends are specific patterns that are present in the periodic table that illustrate different aspects of a certain element, including its size and its electronic properties. Major periodic trends include: electronegativity, ionization energy, electron affinity, atomic radius, melting point, and metallic character. Periodic trends, arising from the arrangement of the periodic table, provide couchsurfingcook.comists with an invaluable tool to quickly predict an element"s properties. These trends exist because of the similar atomic structure of the elements within their respective group families or periods, and because of the periodic nature of the elements.

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Electronegativity Trends

Electronegativity can be understood as a couchsurfingcook.comical property describing an atom"s ability to attract and bind with electrons. Because electronegativity is a qualitative property, there is no standardized method for calculating electronegativity. However, the most common scale for quantifying electronegativity is the Pauling scale (Table A2), named after the couchsurfingcook.comist Linus Pauling. The numbers assigned by the Pauling scale are dimensionless due to the qualitative nature of electronegativity. Electronegativity values for each element can be found on certain periodic tables. An example is provided below.

Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Periodic Table of Electronegativity values

Electronegativity measures an atom"s tendency to attract and form bonds with electrons. This property exists due to the electronic configuration of atoms. Most atoms follow the octet rule (having the valence, or outer, shell comprise of 8 electrons). Because elements on the left side of the periodic table have less than a half-full valence shell, the energy required to gain electrons is significantly higher compared with the energy required to lose electrons. As a result, the elements on the left side of the periodic table generally lose electrons when forming bonds. Conversely, elements on the right side of the periodic table are more energy-efficient in gaining electrons to create a complete valence shell of 8 electrons. The nature of electronegativity is effectively described thus: the more inclined an atom is to gain electrons, the more likely that atom will pull electrons toward itself.

From left to right across a period of elements, electronegativity increases. If the valence shell of an atom is less than half full, it requires less energy to lose an electron than to gain one. Conversely, if the valence shell is more than half full, it is easier to pull an electron into the valence shell than to donate one. From top to bottom down a group, electronegativity decreases. This is because atomic number increases down a group, and thus there is an increased distance between the valence electrons and nucleus, or a greater atomic radius. As for the transition metals, although they have electronegativity values, there is little variance among them across the period and up and down a group. This is because their metallic properties affect their ability to attract electrons as easily as the other elements.

According to these two general trends, the most electronegative element is fluorine, with 3.98 Pauling units.

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api/deki/files/1193/Ionization_Energy_Graph_IK.png?revision=1" />Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Graph showing the Ionization Energy of the Elements from Hydrogen to Argon

Another factor that affects ionization energy is electron shielding. Electron shielding describes the ability of an atom"s inner electrons to shield its positively-charged nucleus from its valence electrons. When moving to the right of a period, the number of electrons increases and the strength of shielding increases. As a result, it is easier for valence shell electrons to ionize, and thus the ionization energy decreases down a group. Electron shielding is also known as screening.


Some elements have several ionization energies; these varying energies are referred to as the first ionization energy, the second ionization energy, third ionization energy, etc. The first ionization energy is the energy requiredto remove the outermost, or highest, energy electron, the second ionization energy is the energy required to remove any subsequent high-energy electron from a gaseous cation, etc. Below are the couchsurfingcook.comical equations describing the first and second ionization energies:

First Ionization Energy:

\< X_{(g)} \rightarrow X^+_{(g)} + e^- \>

Second Ionization Energy:

\< X^+_{(g)} \rightarrow X^{2+}_{(g)} + e^- \>

Generally, any subsequent ionization energies (2nd, 3rd, etc.) follow the same periodic trend as the first ionization energy.

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Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Periodic Table Showing Ionization Energy Trend

Ionization energies decrease as atomic radii increase. This observation is affected by \(n\) (the principal quantum number) and \(Z_{eff}\) (based on the atomic number and shows how many protons are seen in the atom) on the ionization energy (I). The relationship is given by the following equation:

\< I = \dfrac{R_H Z^2_{eff}}{n^2} \>

Across a period, \(Z_{eff}\) increases and n (principal quantum number) remains the same, so the ionization energy increases. Down a group, \(n\) increases and \(Z_{eff}\) increases slightly; the ionization energy decreases.

Electron Affinity Trends

As the name suggests, electron affinity is the ability of an atom to accept an electron. Unlike electronegativity, electron affinity is a quantitative measurement of the energy change that occurs when an electron is added to a neutral gas atom. The more negative the electron affinity value, the higher an atom"s affinity for electrons.

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Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Periodic Table showing Electron Affinity Trend

Electron affinity generally decreases down a group of elements because each atom is larger than the atom above it (this is the atomic radius trend, discussed below). This means that an added electron is further away from the atom"s nucleus compared with its position in the smaller atom. With a larger distance between the negatively-charged electron and the positively-charged nucleus, the force of attraction is relatively weaker. Therefore, electron affinity decreases. Moving from left to right across a period, atoms become smaller as the forces of attraction become stronger. This causes the electron to move closer to the nucleus, thus increasing the electron affinity from left to right across a period.


Electron affinity increases from left to right within a period. This is caused by the decrease in atomic radius. Electron affinity decreases from top to bottom within a group. This is caused by the increase in atomic radius.

Atomic Radius Trends

The atomic radius is one-half the distance between the nuclei of two atoms (just like a radius is half the diameter of a circle). However, this idea is complicated by the fact that not all atoms are normally bound together in the same way. Some are bound by covalent bonds in molecules, some are attracted to each other in ionic crystals, and others are held in metallic crystals. Nevertheless, it is possible for a vast majority of elements to form covalent molecules in which two like atoms are held together by a single covalent bond. The covalent radii of these molecules are often referred to as atomic radii. This distance is measured in picometers. Atomic radius patterns are observed throughout the periodic table.

Atomic size gradually decreases from left to right across a period of elements. This is because, within a period or family of elements, all electrons are added to the same shell. However, at the same time, protons are being added to the nucleus, making it more positively charged. The effect of increasing proton number is greater than that of the increasing electron number; therefore, there is a greater nuclear attraction. This means that the nucleus attracts the electrons more strongly, pulling the atom"s shell closer to the nucleus. The valence electrons are held closer towards the nucleus of the atom. As a result, the atomic radius decreases.

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api/deki/files/1195/Melting_Point_Trend_IK.png?revision=1" />Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Chart of Melting Points of Various Elements

Metallic Character Trends

The metallic character of an element can be defined as how readily an atom can lose an electron. From right to left across a period, metallic character increases because the attraction between valence electron and the nucleus is weaker, enabling an easier loss of electrons. Metallic character increases as you move down a group because the atomic size is increasing. When the atomic size increases, the outer shells are farther away. The principal quantum number increases and average electron density moves farther from nucleus. The electrons of the valence shell have less attraction to the nucleus and, as a result, can lose electrons more readily. This causes an increase in metallic character.

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Another easier way to remember the trend of metallic character is that moving left and down toward the bottom-left corner of the periodic table, metallic character increases toward Groups 1 and 2, or the alkali and alkaline earth metal groups. Likewise, moving up and to the right to the upper-right corner of the periodic table, metallic character decreases because you are passing by to the right side of the staircase, which indicate the nonmetals. These include the Group 8, the noble gases, and other common gases such as oxygen and nitrogen.

In other words: Move left across period and down the group: increase metallic character (heading towards alkali and alkaline metals) Move right across period and up the group: decrease metallic character (heading towards nonmetals like noble gases)Metallic Character Trend IK.png